Anyone who has come out as an atheist or has been vocal about his or her disbelief in the existence of a deity, has probably had a discussion or even an argument with someone of faith about the why and how of this standpoint. I know I’ve certainly had my share on Twitter, via email or even in person. Most often, these discussions end with both sides declaring victory even though neither has been able to convince the other. It’s almost as if both parties speak a different language. Here are some reasons why debating believers is pointless.
- Believers don’t want to hear it
This might seem strange but I’ve actually come across this attitude several times. People of faith simply don’t want to hear your arguments and rebuttals. Their faith is so important to them, it is so entrenched and it is so fundamental to how they view the world and themselves in it, that any views or opinions that threaten their faith are simply blocked, ignored or rejected to avoid the mental stress, known in psychology as cognitive dissonance.
- Echo chamber effect
People of faith are seldom exposed to knowledge that conflicts with their beliefs due to the echo chamber effect. Staying within their familiar circle of Christian relatives, friends, groups and online communities, they repeat beliefs and knowledge to each other, thus reinforcing both their beliefs and the idea that these beliefs are widely held and correct. When a dissenting voice comes along, that voice is simply drowned out by all the echoes from within the “echo chamber”.
- Doubt is the work of Satan
Even if you could plant the seed of doubt in the mind of a believer, they are trained to treat that with suspicion. Doubt is not reasonable or simple curiosity, it is the devil or Satan at work on them. The way to cure doubt is not to explore where it might lead but quite the opposite: burrow and hide deeper in your faith, fearing doubt as the work of evil spirits as described here. Ironically, the more convincing and reasonable you sound, the more the believers will tend to shy away from you.
Scientific evidence is not convincing
You can present scientific evidence as much as you like, this has little effect on the true believers. They simply think that scientists are wrong or even that there is a scientific agenda to deny the existence of God. Instead, they turn to known apologetics or people like Ken Ham who tell them that what they read in their holy book is true and even have people with a PhD lined up to prove things like evolution wrong. Never mind that people who deny evolution are simply not taken seriously by scientists, that’s all part of the conspiracy.
- Fear of loosing faith
Many religious people are genuinely afraid of loosing their faith. Many have been indoctrinated since childhood that people who don’t believe or who believe in the wrong thing, will suffer for all eternity in hell. They don’t want to face up to the reality of death so they cling to the belief in an afterlife where they will be happy forever. Rather than seriously think about what it is they believe, they choose the comforts of faith.
If debating believers is pointless, should atheists avoid speaking out, avoid debates, discussions or arguments with the religious people of the world? No, I don’t think so. Even if you fail to convince someone in a debate that your standpoint is the right one, that doesn’t necessarily mean your words will not have an effect. Perhaps not on the person you are debating but maybe on a bystander or spectator. If you manage to plant the seed of doubt in only one person and it does happen to take root, you will have had some success. Maybe someone who hears you happens to be on the fence and you manage to tip the scales. I think it is important to shine the bright LED light of reason into the dim, candle-lit vaults of religion if only to expose believers to other opinions and ways of thinking. If they see an atheist debate in a calm, friendly manner, giving his or her reasons for rejecting faith-based claims, perhaps that will help them see things in a different light. Rational discourse is never really pointless. If atheists don’t speak up, the voice of reason will be drowned out by the monotonous sound of droning prayers. And that would truly be a loss for this world.
What do you think? Is debating believers pointless? What are your experiences? Please leave a comment below.