The debate about whether or not evolution is ‘real’ or not is one with which atheists and theists alike will be familiar. I recently received a very well written and nicely produced pamphlet attacking ‘scientific myths’, including evolution: pointing out that there is no complete consensus on how evolution works, and that there are gaps in the evidence. Within discussions of the validity of religion, such debates are, however, something of a red herring – evolution has no relevance to considerations of the veracity of religion.
Yet by engaging atheists in debates about evolution, and evidence and arguments for and against, theists are distracting from this simple fact. More seriously, there is a danger that this debate sets up an implication of an ‘either/or’ situation, which is clearly not the case. Humans always want certainties – that is why they invent religions and argue strenuously about evolution – but the argument over the certainty of where life comes from should not distract from the certainty that really matters: there is no god.
I give credence to the theory of evolution, because it is afforded widespread scientific/academic credence, there appears to be plenty of evidence and it seems to me to make sense. However, that position could arguably also have applied to various (‘scientific’) beliefs in, say, early Christian times that are no longer taken seriously, therefore:
Can I personally say with absolute certainty (that certainty with which I can say that there is no god) that evolution, as we currently understand it, is a fact of nature? No. Does that have any bearing on the simple fact that there is no god (or does it indeed have any relevance to discussions of this matter)? No.
Perhaps we will eventually be able to produce an account of evolution in all its features and workings that is completely accurate and incontrovertible. Perhaps we will have to alter or expand our current understanding substantially to achieve this. Perhaps a more differentiated alternative will be developed. Perhaps we will never know entirely and exactly how we arrived at our present state as a species. Do these possibilities have any bearing on religion? No.
There will almost certainly always be things that we can’t explain, and humans evidently feel the need to formulate answers to questions that preoccupy them, to the best of their (often feeble) abilities.
I’m not arguing against scientific endeavour (on the contrary - I’m an academic), just keep in mind that you don’t have to ‘prove’ evolution to disprove god. Put simply: there is no need for a definite alternative to disprove god – it’s not an either/or situation: however the universe began, and however life developed, god does not exist.
Yeah, if you can catch them young, before they've completely invested their identity in the whole concept, they're much more open to an alternative to their brainwashing. Most teenagers believe because they're not aware that there's a viable alternative.
That's why it doesn't matter if we actually convert anyone with the billboard campaigns going on around the country. We're still at the public awareness stage of the campaign. Any deconverts we get are a bonus.
Ultimately, you should bring people over to atheism by reason and evidence (or lack thereof), but you have to crack their shell first. You need to start with emotional arguments to get them actually listening to you in the first place. You can't reason with people who have their fingers in their ears.
Case in point: the girl I'm working on, who presented Thomas Aquinas's Five Proofs as a solid proof of the existence of God.
The first three 'proofs' are the same damned thing. They're the exact same structure of the first cause argument with very slightly different wording. They have the same flaws in the exact same places. At that, it's a very primitive construction of the first cause argument. It's not even as advanced as the Kalam Cosmological Argument.
The first 'proof' ends with:
Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.
I've explained to her what a perfect demonstration of the Argument from Ignorance that statement is ... what a complete non sequitur it is. Until I can crack the shell and get her to the point that she's able to seriously consider the idea that her god is made-up, she won't be able to look at the arguments objectively. She'll fill in the freaking huge holes in the arguments with her a priori belief in her brainwashing.
It's the emotional arguments which may get her at least slightly free of the brainwashing to the point that she can start to reason.
I agree with your sentiment - although I'm not sure what you mean by emotional arguments as such. I think all my conversations are emotional - in that we can't separate emotions from logic or reason - it's all intertwined. Sam Harris mentions this in his book the moral landscape - because it's all dealt with in the same frontal cortex.
But that besides - I would say it's important to develop an emotional connection with the person - find common ground - show them compassion - and then bring up conflicts of belief - so that they can see that you are a loving and compassionate person who also has a logical way of seeing the world - which may well be surprising to them if they have been brainwashed into believing that we are all sinning heathens with evil intentions. This conflict will be quite obvious to them.
... although I'm not sure what you mean by emotional arguments as such.
Stuff like one of my favorite Matt Dillahunty rants:
Similarly, Dan Barker makes a lot of the immorality sort of arguments, in his latest book. You need to attack a theist emotionally, before they'll listen to reason and stop filling in the holes in the logical arguments that they cling to so tenaciously. You have to make them want to be objective.
If you start from the perspective of logic, explaining the null hypothesis, the burden of proof, shooting down all of their (il)logical arguments for God. You have to get past their emotional fallbacks, like faith, before you can reason with them.