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    Thread: Should atheists pull their punches in a debate with theists to spare them losing their faith?

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      Should atheists pull their punches in a debate with theists to spare them losing their faith?

      In a debate between atheists and theists, it seems the atheists have nothing to lose whereas the same is not true for the theists.

      An atheist who changes their mind during the course of a debate simply becomes a theist. On the other hand, a theist who changes their mind suffers a loss of faith which can be devastating.

      So my question is - should an atheist feel responsible for the results (likely depression and existential dread) suffered by a theist who loses faith by taking part in a debate? Or is it strictly the responsibility of the theist, who decided to take part and continued to debate to the bitter end?

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      Many theists (I'd say most of them) already suffer some sort of cognitive dissonance. Besides, it is ultimately the theist who makes the change. As you know, no one can make a blind person see but themselves.

      Theists have to realize that they are free to hold whatever beliefs they want, but in the second they assert something in public, just like any person making a claim, they are subject to criticism, appreciation or lack of appreciation, as well counter-arguing. This is not "cherry-picking" from atheists: we do this in practically every subject. The good thing is that we even do for concepts like moral.



      Besides, many militant atheists are not arguing to expose intellectual flaws or to promote intellectual honesty, they are doing it because of the negative impact of religion in the world. I'd rather make a person go through a crisis (that is in the huge majority of cases surpassed) due their extinguish of faith than to allow education towards faith and guidance that teaches that person to commit certain acts she would not make should her faith not define her behavior. Some lessons are harsh yes, and many theists didn't choose to believe, they were simply educated into it. But I really believe that in the end, they will only gain by putting their faith into the people and the world rather than a mystical being that takes care of them.
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      What if the theist is a close friend?

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      Nobody can make a believer lose their faith, but him- or herself. From my observation, my debates with atheists only strengthen my faith by helping me reexamine it, question and refine it, but at the end my faith comes out stronger than before just different but in a good way. However, debates with atheist at times are painful, not because they lead to loss of faith for me, but because some statements are delivered with such conviction from the other speaker that he is right and I am wrong and if only I was not so illogical I would see that, and that is painful to hear not because I agree or am likely to. Oh, and yes, I know that at times I misread what the other person says and read it as being much harsher than it was meant to be. But no, I would not appreciate being coddled, and even if at times I am pained, me and my faith will survive that, and I would rather engage in discussions from which I may learn something which may not be what either of the participants in the discussion expected me to learn.
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      I notice you seem completely adamant that you will never lose your faith. Let me ask you something -- and please consider this very realistically - I don't ask for an immediate answer.

      What if your faith did suddenly dissolve? Or begin to?

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      I used to be a strong catholic, but after having many debates with one of my friends at school (the only other atheist i know) I realized I had no answers to his questions and no counterarguments to his point. So after thinking about the topic for many months I generally lost more and more faith until now where I don't believe that a god exists. Personally I did not find the loss of faith depressing, rather I found it to be quite amazing. I feel much more enjoyment finding answers than saying it was a magical being that did it. I'm really glad I have this friend, because without him I'd still be mindlessly praying to a God instead of finding solutions on my own. To you're question darkmatters losing faith is not depressing and as terrible as you think it is to me it was one of the best things that has ever happened in my life.
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      However, debates with atheist at times are painful
      That's because of (also) cognitive dissonance. Let's say I provide you with a clear statement that god defies logic. Would you change your mind? In the previous discussion, you did comfort yourself by dodging some questions or changing the perspective of the answer. This is not to start an agreement, is just to show you that if we replaced the word god/religion by a word like "circumcision" and "medical care", a (blind to the experiment) person would say you would be dodging the question. There are many questions that I can't answer regarding the way I behave, and as human I'm naturally drawn to justify myself with some sort of excuse, even at a subconscious level.

      This is actually the biggest factor of "kindness" when I talk to a religious person. Let's forget for a fact that I'm an atheist. The deal is, I can recall so many moments of my life where I answered something emotionally because I honestly didn't have a proper answer, that it would be hypocrite of me to expect people to behave otherwise. Yes, takes a lot of courage to admit you are wrong or can't answer a question, but personally, it was one of the best lessons I've learned in my life. The fact of admitting a person is right and I'm wrong in a specific point, despite she's behaving like an idiot, or despite my belief is huge, or despite what she says is evil or stupid, but truth, really opens many doors.

      What if the theist is a close friend?
      Great that you asked me this. My best friend actually believes in supernatural entities and practices things like reiki and believes in spirits and angels. Now, naturally we have discussed many times regarding this theist vs atheist view, and you know after much discussion what he told me?

      "Zoth you are right in those particular questions and I don't have the answer to many of the things you ask me. But despite all that, despite the fact that if I reason I'll reach the same conclusion as you (because you know, logic is universal), I still believe". And from that point, not a single f*** was given from my part. He reached a point where even though he could rationalize the fallacies/errors in his thinking, he still believed. Can't ask more than that to a person in my opinion.
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      Quote Originally Posted by Darkmatters View Post
      I notice you seem completely adamant that you will never lose your faith. Let me ask you something -- and please consider this very realistically - I don't ask for an immediate answer.

      What if your faith did suddenly dissolve? Or begin to?
      The last time I had a crisis of faith, I sought out conversations with my priest and started reading the bible and fought for my faith with all my intellectual and emotional and spiritual strength, and I won. Right now, I have great faith in myself and in the power of the holy spirit within me. When my self esteem is weakest and depression is strongest though, it is a different story. However, every time this has happened thus far, I have always come out at the end stronger than before, pulling myself out, so based on my 39 years of self experience, I think it is likely to happen again unless I break the cycle which is what I am working on now. Oh, and when I am not self confident, I am likely to avoid confrontation with atheists, so the way this works is if arguing with you depresses me, I am likely to stop arguing with you and may even stop talking with you, sorry about that.
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      So you can't even imagine yourself becoming an atheist? The thought seems to horrify you.

      I suspect the ones who get the most depressed over a loss of faith are the more extreme theists, the dogmatic ones who's whole value system is built entirely on their beliefs. But you're very non-dogmatic, and non-extremist. In fact your conception of God is so broad it almost doesn't sound religious to me but spiritual.

      You've already said all religions share the same core. In a sense you're not strictly Christian, almost more of a pantheist (not sure if that's the right term, maybe an Omnitheist or something?) I suppose the only way you're technically a Christian is because you believe the divine spirit inhabited Jesus, but then you also believe the same divine spirit inhabited Buddha and many other religious figures, correct? So I don't see why you'd restrict yourself to being only a Christian. Then again, it might be because you're just beginning to broaden your horizons to include the other religions like Buddhism.

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      Quote Originally Posted by Darkmatters View Post
      So my question is - should an atheist feel responsible for the results (likely depression and existential dread) suffered by a theist who loses faith by taking part in a debate? Or is it strictly the responsibility of the theist, who decided to take part and continued to debate to the bitter end?
      If you're entering a debate, you run the risk of having your worldview shattered. Cue the saying "if you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen."
      The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is, not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended. - Frédéric Bastiat
      I try to deny myself any illusions or delusions, and I think that this perhaps entitles me to try and deny the same to others, at least as long as they refuse to keep their fantasies to themselves. - Christopher Hitchens
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      I think it's best to be straight-forward with people in a debate. If you really have any respect for someone, you'll just be honest with them and explain your point of view as best you can. It's the only way we can expose ourselves to new ideas and grow as individuals. You can't just hold back good logical arguments and convincing evidence for the simple fact that it'll upset someone. If you're not going to express yourself properly, what's the point of even debating in the first place?

      In religious debates, people obviously put a lot of stock in their beliefs. For some, their faith defines them and they feel intense emotional anguish when they start to lose that source of comfort in their lives. But in the name of intellectual integrity, we can't just shy away from touchy subjects. If we care at all about the issues we're discussing, then we have to be open with each other.

      Losing your faith doesn't have to be a terrible thing. People trick themselves into believing that the world depends on their faith and that nothing could ever be as beautiful without it. But they soon realize that even though something so dear has been taken away from them, the world is still here and it's just as stunning and wondrous as it's ever been.

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      Quote Originally Posted by Darkmatters View Post
      So you can't even imagine yourself becoming an atheist? The thought seems to horrify you.

      I suspect the ones who get the most depressed over a loss of faith are the more extreme theists, the dogmatic ones who's whole value system is built entirely on their beliefs. But you're very non-dogmatic, and non-extremist. In fact your conception of God is so broad it almost doesn't sound religious to me but spiritual.

      You've already said all religions share the same core. In a sense you're not strictly Christian, almost more of a pantheist (not sure if that's the right term, maybe an Omnitheist or something?) I suppose the only way you're technically a Christian is because you believe the divine spirit inhabited Jesus, but then you also believe the same divine spirit inhabited Buddha and many other religious figures, correct? So I don't see why you'd restrict yourself to being only a Christian. Then again, it might be because you're just beginning to broaden your horizons to include the other religions like Buddhism.
      I believe that all major religions have some ideas right and some ideas wrong, and that includes Christianity. No I would not call myself an Omnitheist because I do not believe all aspects of all religions are true. And while I am beginning to wonder whether Buddha was not another incarnation of God no less than Christ, but I do not believe that firmly - it is an idea that has occurred to me, but which is not part of my faith (though it is not inconsistent with some interpretations of my faith - one can be Christian and believe that the incarnation happened more than once). I do however believe that Christianity is not the only path to salvation, and that there are many spiritual paths that lead more in the right direction than the wrong one. I consider myself a Christian because I believe in one God, I believe he was incarnated as Jesus Christ, and he lives in ever human being as the Holy Spirit aka conscience and spiritual power potential within each person. I am also a Christian because I grew up as a Christian, and my husband is Christian as well, and because there is no point (no need) in changing religions for me. Oh, I may learn from other religions while remaining at home in my own, but that is perfectly acceptable in my religion - and no, it would not be perfectly acceptable if I had remained Roman Catholic, but Episcopalians generally do not have problems with learning from Buddhism as well as from Christianity - ours is a very tolerant and open minded Christian denomination.
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      Interesting topic, I'm curious if anyone has ever succesfully made a theist change their mind in the midst of a debate? I'm under the impression that opinions of this magnitude very rarely reverse in real time, much more likely that they change their minds some time later, on their own, after they've mulled over the arguments for awhile.

      I tend to believe that the truth is good for people, in more situations than not. Though that being said, I would certainly use different language talking to a 10 year old kid on their death bed than I would for say one of my university friends. But I would never lie about a deity/afterlife to even a kid with terminal cancer, I just would be a lot more gentle with them.

      If I did witness my debate opponent to be obviously stressed about the now apparent lack of any evidence for their deity, I would probably change the topic and explain to them how atheism does not have to entail some sort of why even get out of bed in the morning type nihilism.
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      That doesn't make any sense to me. If a person loses faith and become an atheist, what exactly is the problem? Losing faith is only a problem if you still believe in god, but losing faith when you don't believe in god is meaningless.
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      Ah, well put. But there's still the possibility a theist might lose faith due to arguments they can't counter but not make the transition to full atheist.

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      Well if you pull your punches then they might doubt and lose faith but not make the transition. So in my opinion you want to go all out and totally destroy their position and remove all doubt, only then can you be sure they will not only lose faith but make the switch. Besides you are not responsible for anyone else's feelings if all you are doing is telling the truth.
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      There's not a lot I wouldn't put a person through to break them away from organized religion.

      That being said, outspoken atheists are hardly better than outspoken theists. Whether or not you believe in a god, if you think you know you're right for a fact, you're wrong. Even atheism is a matter of faith. You shouldn't be debating with people to convince them to switch sides on an argument neither of you can possibly ever know the correct answer to, you should be trying to show them that you shouldn't rely on faith and some kind of preconceived moral code to know how to live your life. There's nothing wrong with believing that a god or otherwise divine force may exist as long as you understand that religion is a human organization and nothing else. Atheists trying to avoid the unknown with denial is not any different than theists trying to avoid it with assurance. You should just be trying to convince people to focus on what's in front of them and accept that some things can't be known, not acting like you have all the answers.

      <--- Hardcore agnostic.
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      I agree, but a theist could still lose faith because of arguments provided by agnostic atheists. Or just get their feelings hurt because their position is being attacked. And the atheists don't have a difficult-to-defend position to try to hold up, like the theists do. It still somehow seems like a theist has a lot more to lose (even if atheists don't believe it's anything real) and the atheists don't.

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      We've been over this before; atheism is a LACK of belief and a LACK of faith. You can't be "hardcore agnostic".
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      Quote Originally Posted by Darkmatters View Post
      I agree, but a theist could still lose faith because of arguments provided by agnostic atheists. Or just get their feelings hurt because their position is being attacked. And the atheists don't have a difficult-to-defend position to try to hold up, like the theists do. It still somehow seems like a theist has a lot more to lose (even if atheists don't believe it's anything real) and the atheists don't.
      No, atheists don't really have much to lose, they just need to stop being arrogant (if you ask me). I see atheism as sort of a butthurt response to religion, really. As for the theists, I stick by what I said. The only part of traditional theism worth attacking is the religious practices, in which case, I would rather save them from a delusional life than spare their feelings. I've talked people out of religion before and I'll probably do it again.

      Quote Originally Posted by TimeDragon97 View Post
      We've been over this before; atheism is a LACK of belief and a LACK of faith. You can't be "hardcore agnostic".
      Atheism is a BELIEF that there is no god. Period. Agnosticism is a lack of solid belief.

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      Bullshit ^ That's the definition of STRONG atheism. As I said, personally I'm an agnostic atheist - I don't believe in a god or gods, but I also don't believe we have any way to know for a fact whether there are gods or not.

      The A doesn't mean Against, it means Not or Without. So an atheist, unless it's a strong atheist, is simply someone without religious belief. Not someone who has a positive belief against gods.

      Agnosticism is the philosophical position stating that the world is unknowable and certainty is impossible. In a narrower meaning, Agnosticism is the view that the existence or non-existence of any deity is unknown and possibly unknowable. More specifically, agnosticism is the view that the truth values of certain claims—especially claims about the existence or non-existence of any deity, as well as other religious and metaphysical claims—are unknown and (so far as can be judged) unknowable.[1][2][3] Agnosticism can be defined in various ways, and is sometimes used to indicate doubt or a skeptical approach to questions. In some senses, agnosticism is a stance about the difference between belief and knowledge, rather than about any specific claim or belief. In the popular sense, an agnostic is someone who neither believes nor disbelieves in the existence of a deity or deities, whereas a theist and an atheist believe and disbelieve, respectively.[2] In the strict sense, however, agnosticism is the view that humanity does not currently possess the requisite knowledge and/or reason to provide sufficient rational grounds to justify the belief that deities either do or do not exist.
      Positive atheism (also called strong atheism and hard atheism) is the form of atheism that asserts that no deities exist.[1] Negative atheism (also called weak atheism and soft atheism) is any other type of atheism, wherein a person does not believe in the existence of any deities, but does not explicitly assert there to be none.
      Both from Wikipeda

      So, gnosticism is about knowledge (Gnosis is the greek word for knowledge after all) and theism is about belief in gods or a particular god.
      Last edited by Darkmatters; 07-03-2013 at 06:42 AM.
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      Dark, those wiki quotes did nothing but prove my points. In matters such as this where no one can truly know the answer, belief and faith are synonymous. Also, in a situation such as this where it is truly either or when it comes to certainties (there is no "third option" about whether or not there is a god), belief and disbelief are synonymous. If you don't believe in god, then you believe there is no god. The difference between "positive" and "negative" atheism as is defined there is trivial; it reflects nothing other than personality traits. Agnosticism, again as defined by your quotes, is the idea that you can't be certain no matter what, and therefore belief is pointless. In other words, atheism is a belief that there is no god and agnosticism is a lack of solid belief. Exactly what I said before.

      You can call yourself an agnostic atheist, but it doesn't my change my point either. Believe what you want to believe, but as long as you understand that you can't know for sure, then why should you care so much about changing what other people believe? And if you are attempting to persuade others, are you not "asserting" that there is no god?

      EDIT: Also, the root "the" in theism means god(s). Theism is not a religious belief, it is specifically a belief in a god or gods. Therefore, atheism is specifically the belief that there is no god.
      Last edited by Alyzarin; 07-03-2013 at 06:48 AM.

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      Quote Originally Posted by Alyzarin View Post
      EDIT: Also, the root "the" in theism means god(s). Theism is not a religious belief, it is specifically a belief in a god or gods. Therefore, atheism is specifically the belief that there is no god.
      Wrong - as I already explained it's not a positive claim against a god or gods, only a LACK of belief in them.

      Negative atheism (also called weak atheism and soft atheism) is any other type of atheism, wherein a person does not believe in the existence of any deities, but does not explicitly assert there to be none.
      What's so hard about that?

      If you still won't agree, then just call me an agnostic if it helps, though that only speaks about knowledge and fails to address belief at all.


      Ok, example - let's say there's a room full of agnostics - they all agree that humanity can't currently know anything for a fact about god(s). Still some of those people would lean toward belief, some like yourself and myself would say "since we can't know then I have no belief one way or the other" (agnostic weak atheist), and some will say "Well maybe we can't really know for sure, but I strongly believe there are no gods and I'm ready to fight about it!" (agnostic strong atheist).

      Oh, and yeah, I'll admit, sometimes I still slip back into agnostic strong atheism. Hey, old habits are hard to break! But I am trying.
      Last edited by Darkmatters; 07-03-2013 at 07:24 AM.
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      Quote Originally Posted by Darkmatters View Post
      Wrong - as I already explained it's not a positive claim against a god or gods, only a LACK of belief in them.

      What's so hard about that?

      If you still won't agree, then just call me an agnostic if it helps, though that only speaks about knowledge and fails to address belief at all.


      Ok, example - let's say there's a room full of agnostics - they all agree that humanity can't currently know anything for a fact about god(s). Still some of those people would lean toward belief, some like yourself and myself would say "since we can't know then I have no belief one way or the other" (agnostic weak atheist), and some will say "Well maybe we can't really know for sure, but I strongly believe there are no gods and I'm ready to fight about it!" (agnostic strong atheist).

      Oh, and yeah, I'll admit, sometimes I still slip back into agnostic strong atheism. Hey, old habits are hard to break! But I am trying.
      Honestly, I really wanted to ask you the same question ("What's so hard about that?") when I first saw this post. I think we've been experiencing a major miscommunication up to this point. But I'm thinking, hopefully, that this example you added will help clear things up.

      When I say "atheist", I don't mean agnostic strong or agnostic weak, or agnostic anything. I mean atheist, as in someone who will assert that there is no god for certain just as strongly as a theist will often assert that there is a god for certain. This is my perception of atheists because most of my atheist friends are like this. For me (heavy emphasis on that), there is no assumed agnostic, strong, or weak qualities. An atheist is just someone who strictly believes there is no god.

      It sounds to me like, from your perspective, there is an assumed level of agnosticism in all atheists. I assure you that this is not the case, at least not when you know the people that I know, but with this in mind I think I can understand what you're trying to say much better. I've never personally come across someone who would fit the agnostic strong atheist definition you put. To me that just sounds like someone who is very confused lol. Or, a pure atheist in denial, not actually agnostic. Now, you say that you don't lean one way or the other, but you call yourself an agnostic atheist. To me, that sends the signal that you truly do believe that we can't be certain, but that you're inclined to lean toward believing that there is no god, my view of atheism, if you had to choose. But now it sounds to me like your definition of agnostic atheism is something I don't consider atheism at all, just pure agnosticism. This is the way that I feel - I've come to the conclusion that reality is so amazing that it really could go either way, that it could just genuinely be that incredible on its own because it must be simply to exist, or that it could have been designed by an omnipotent entity because it's so great that I would believe that too. Neither outcome would really surprise me at all. To me, it sounds simply wrong to call that view on atheist one, because a theist is someone who believes in a god. Therefore, an atheist, the opposite of a theist, should be someone who doesn't believe in god, not someone who's open to either possibility. I'm not saying that that's the universally correct way, that's just how I see it.

      Please, correct me if I'm wrong. I'm really trying to get us on the same page here.

    25. #25
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      There is a huge difference between someone arguing for atheist and someone arguing for religion, and that is one is right and one is wrong. It is the same difference between someone arguing over if the earth is round or flat. Atheism doesn't require any faith and we can easily 100% prove all religions are wrong.

      The difference between and agnostic and atheist is pretty much meaningless in most conversations. Most agnostics know all earthly religions are false, and they know there is absolutely no reason to believe in a god but they want to be intellectually honest and so admit that there is an infinitesimally small chance that anything could happen. I personally don't see the point in doing that, since there is no practical reason for it.

      If I am talking to someone about gravity, and say if you drop something it will always fall because of it, there is some tiny small chance gravity might not work one day and the object will not fall. However there is no practical reason to say that, and so anyone talking about it will just says that object falls towards earth due to gravity. In the same way there is no practical reason to talk about infinitesimally small chances of there being some vague concept of god around, you can just simply say, no he doesn't exit.

      So I just call myself an atheist. We know for a fact that all current religions are man made and are thus untrue, and a god doesn't really make sense in in universe due to the laws of physics, so we can safely say there is no god and leave it at that.

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