Very good discussion of atheist-theist debates by Greta Christina, author of the Greta Christina blog.

Why It's So Tricky for Atheists to Debate with Believers

In conversations between atheists and believers, is there any way atheists can win?

I've been in a lot of discussions and debates with religious believers in the last few years, and I'm beginning to notice a pattern. Believers put atheists in no-win situations, so that no matter what atheists do, we'll be seen as either acting like jerks or conceding defeat.

Tags: debate

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Replies to This Discussion

I've always found it a matter of setting appropriate expectations. I don't expect to "win" an argument. I expect to be able to introduce a different, well defended perspective, politely, that they can think about on their own time.

We could make a mad lib of this post and merely insert the theist's perspective on winning against atheists. I've never seen anyone "win" in the sense people really seem to expect when they go into senseless argument after argument online.

Ben
I expect to be able to introduce a different, well defended perspective, politely, that they can think about on their own time.

That's a very good point, I think often there is an emphasis in "winning" an argument as if it's some sort or sporting event or contest of egos - or just as bad, hoping that someone will suddenly "deconvert". I don't think that's the sense she means, though.
Believers use circular logic to win debates. If the debate is based on the bible, or holy tomb of their choice you will loose.

Don't ague their tomb, don't play in their ball park.
There is a fundamental (no pun intended) disconnect in any discussion between theists and atheists. We are arguing from logic and they are arguing from faith. Their faith demands that they believe DESPITE logic and our logic insists that blind faith is a copout. Therefore, any discussion about the existence of god between a theist and an atheist is really just two people soliloquizing in front of each other.
P.S. But we're right.
Well -- go far enough back and there's no theist to be an a-theist in reaction to. And, once they started (small and unknown), who paid them any attention, let alone write about the opposition? And then there's the whole problem of proving a negative -- proving things like Euclidean geometry were much more productive.
Actually, there are ancient arguments/disproofs of theism. Pessin's book The God Question is a pretty good place to start if you want to keep it relatively simple. He does a good job summarizing both sides from ancient to modern times.
But you can use it to evaluate which ancient sources to look into. Anyone can get copies of Plato's works and the various other ancinet scholars
He who fears death either fears the loss of sensation or a different kind of sensation. But if thou shalt have no sensation, neither wilt thou feel any harm; and if thou shalt acquire another kind of sensation, thou wilt be a different kind of living being and thou wilt not cease to live. (from The Meditations - Marcus Aurelius.)

This puts the 'lie' to the Christian idea that we are, essentially, the same person in the afterlife. I often ask if my mother will have brain damage in heaven (as she did when she died) or be ... which version of herself. Will my older brother who died the first day of his life be forever a day old infant? Will my grandfather who died at ninety-three with all his mental faculties and much wisdom be as he was at the end - or the young, skilled situational alcoholic he was when he was in his early twenties?

It also puts the lie to the idea that 'oblivion' is 'unthinkable.'
My father is fond of challenging people to cite an ancient contemporary source to prove our points

How about the famous Epicurus quote?

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?”
As soon as theologians can come up with an ancient contemporary source from Jesus' time that shows the guy even existed (much less that he did any of his magic tricks), then I think it's all right for believers to demand we atheists have ancient contemporary sources.

But of course if we had actual proof about Jesus and his dad, then I guess we wouldn't need faith then, would we? God wants us to have faith, after all, right?

That's the part that frustrates me most about many Christian apologists is that they use lack of evidence (euphemistically called "faith") as a positive thing. Then again, this is a religion founded on the belief that God punished humanity forever as soon as we ate from the Tree of Knowledge. So God must not be a big fan of people actually knowing things...
That's a logical fallacy, called "No true Scotsman"

Interesting blog post on the subject, along with interview with Richard Dawkins on Point of Inquiry podcast.

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