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Atheism and debate June 22, 2008

Posted by Teen Atheist in issues, rants.
Tags: , , , , , ,

“The more you stomp in poop, the more it stinks.”

Who thought I’d ever be quoting Billy Ray Cyrus, eh? It’s true, though, and it’s the best way to describe how I feel about responding to the anti-atheist comments I get here. Sometimes they’ll go all-out on their rage (“You’re going to hell!”) or be deceptively nice (“May you see the light someday”), but I treat them all the same way: I delete them.

It’s not as easy when you’re confronted with that kind of spammage in real life, though. If there’s one thing I learned after almost a whole year of being a “heathen” atheist, it’s that you have to walk around carrying an arsenal of proper responses to arguments that will be thrown at you from any angle. Atheism and debate walk hand-in-hand, or at least, debate is constantly humping atheism’s leg.

Here are the different debate tactics I’ve encountered so far:

1. The sanctimonious approach
Case in point: Tyler

“Your atheism is just a phase. You’re a good person, TA, I know you’ll come back to the light eventually.”

Insisting that you’re not in a dark place of any sort will only lead to the two of you running around in circles, so I just respond to this with a noncommittal nod and smile, followed by…

2. The change-of-topic
Case in point: Me

Tyler: “Why are you still an atheist?”
TA: “Oh, um…hey, the espresso brownie at Starbucks is really good, have you tried it? Come on, let’s go get one.”

If debate were a PlayStation (sorry guys, I’m loyal to Sony — wider game selection), this tactic would be the “reset” button. Yeah, I know, shame on me for taking the easy way out and wearing out that button like a motherfucker, but you’ve got to learn to pick your battles. Time is of the essence, and I’d rather waste it on other things than explaining why yes, I’m an atheist and no, I’m not Satan’s daughter.

3. The banishment
Case in point: CDT

CDT: “You were being condescending, blah blah blah.”
Me: “Are you kidding me? Here’s why your comments were completely condescending, and I just responded because I don’t tolerate that kind of asshattery around here.”
CDT: “…Satan has got a hold on you!”

Still the dumbest argument I’ve ever had (next to the ones with my mother), and the funny thing is that I’m pretty sure CDT still thinks he won.

4. The personal attack (closely related to #3)
Case in point: Fred

Fred: “I can’t believe you posted our whole debate on your blog and made me look like an idiot!”
TA: “I just quoted you verbatim, dude. I didn’t make you look like an idiot, you made yourself look like an idiot.”
Fred: “Oh yeah? Well, all of my friends think you’re an elitist bitch!”
TA: “…And? What does that have to do with anything?”
Fred: “You’re not offended?”
TA: “No. Should I be?”
Fred: “You’re not compelled to change your personality and be a better person? Wow. That’s kind of horrible.”

I couldn’t help laughing because Fred, who happens to be a bigger elitist and a far more abrasive and unlikable personality than I am, was OMG Morally Outraged (TM) that I wasn’t affected by that “revelation.” And the moment he lost his temper over that while I maintained my cool, I knew that I had won.

See, Fred’s a very predictable type of debater: if he knows he’s been backed into a corner, he’ll go right for the jugular and throw everything but the kitchen sink at you, even if it’s completely unrelated to the topic at hand. These debates are very easy to win. All you have to do is keep a straight face and remain calm and unaffected. They’ll go batty.

5. The non-sequitur
Case in point: Mother Dearest

“How can there not be a God, when I managed to get through all of these difficult times in my life? How can there not be a God, when this world is so beautifully complex? You can’t possibly believe that it came out of nowhere!”

It’s tough arguing with idiots. You can’t win, even when you win. Not to say that my mother is an idiot entirely, but you all know how she is when it comes to my atheism.

So, there you have it. TA’s Top 5 Encountered Debate Tactics. Now, it’s up to you whether you want to respond to the argument, or be a lazy bum like me and just press the “reset” button.



1. Dean - June 22, 2008

I’m totally for debates. They make you think and look at the world from a different, opposing point of view. However I dislike it when people debate stupidly (i.e. the examples you mentioned in your post). Debates are okay as long as respect for one another’s beliefs is maintained, and if you feel like you’ve lost the argument, concede, right? I so hate people who argue and then, after being proven totally wrong, still insist that they’ve won.

2. vitaminbook - June 22, 2008

Oh yeah, I’ve come across all of these before. They get boring after a while…

3. John Morales - June 22, 2008

Cheer up – I’m pretty sure you haven’t encountered the gamut yet!

But I like your approach.


4. Teen Atheist - June 22, 2008

I so hate people who argue and then, after being proven totally wrong, still insist that they’ve won.

Heh. And then go around proclaiming “I’m an undefeated debater!” LOLZ.

5. Teen Atheist - June 22, 2008

Cheer up – I’m pretty sure you haven’t encountered the gamut yet!

I’m not bitter, John Morales. Just feeling expository today. 🙂

6. blackatticus - June 23, 2008

I think that was the most honest statement i’ve read in a while:

” If there’s one thing I learned after almost a whole year of being a “heathen” atheist, it’s that you have to walk around carrying an arsenal of proper responses to arguments that will be thrown at you from any angle.”

I wonder if all the people attacking your stand point in ways that PROVE your point (cause there’s nothing GODLY about calling you random shit and banishing you to hell), realise they’re defeating their own ‘arguments’ in the process?

its human nature to despise, hate, loathe, question, and ‘place into a box we can label: NOW I UNDERSTAND’ — anything or anyone we don’t understand.

it’s quite equivalent to trying to tell a lesbian who feels like a man trapped in a woman’s body, that she is not only WRONG for feeling that way, but that ultimately (“due to evil forces”) she doesn’t even FEEL that way AT ALL.

or trying to tell someone you’ve NEVER met before, that they spelled their name wrong simply because you’ve NEVER seen it spelled that way. freakin’ ridiculous.

I personally haven’t gone through these particular issues but i do know what it’s like to be hounded with ‘leg humping debates’ over a stand point.

I just realise that people’s intentions are good even if they go about it in a jacked-up or emotionally charged way. quite literally, ‘they know what they do’.

7. blackatticus - June 23, 2008

i meant “know NOT what they do”

8. Mark - June 23, 2008

At a place I was seconded to for a few months there was a very cute Chinese girl who was exactly the sort of girl I am attracted to (not that I am available, of course). Then I found out she’s a Catholic, which is the worst kind of Christian, by far. Every Catholic I have knowingly met has been a total nutcase.

One day the topic of religion came up and she found out I am an atheist. “What, you don’t believe in God?” she said. “No,” I said. “Then how do you explain miracles?” she asked. “I don’t have to,” I said, “because they don’t happen.”

She then proceeded to spew some bollocks about a baby born without eyes who grew eyeballs when a priest prayed over her. Turns out this was a garbled version of a story about the fraudulently stigmatic Father Pio. grrr, people who believe crap like that piss me off. Doubly when they’d be really cute if they weren’t so fucking moronic.

9. Anonymous - June 23, 2008

They do say, “Never argue with idiots. They’ll just drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.”

10. Agersomnia - June 23, 2008

Some of the lamest arguments in debates I have ever heard come from a theist defending the existence the “proof” of existence of God and spiritual forces. Thankfully I’m kind of a third gen. atheist (both my grandfather and my father were/are atheists married with Catholics), so I sort of have previous experience to draw on how to deal with people, and as TA says, when to fight and when to push RESET button.

My grandpa was raised as a Catholic, and with photographic memory he could remember the exact words of the Bible. Than, later in life when he was an atheist, he used to get a lot of visitors from the Witness of Jehova. They were tireless, sending fresh meat every time for my grandpa to slaughter: He invited them in for some coffee or a cold drink, and talked hours… until they quitted. Eventually, he found out that the man in charge of training the Witness to make visits sent them purposefully as their “graduation exam”.

11. John - June 23, 2008

My favorite “argument” from religious idiots goes along the lines of “How can you be SO SURE? That is so smug!” Of course, 1) you can’t argue they’re SO SURE because they’ll say it’s not their certainty, it’s the WORD OF GAWD. 2) If you point out that scientists aren’t SO SURE, that theories are subject to revisions and retesting and reevaluation, they flip the argument and say “See, scientists don’t know, they keep guessing. The Word of Gawd is unchanging and eternal.”

You just can’t win with morons, which is why I never debate them. Logic goes out the window, even with people who are otherwise quite intellectual. I’ve talked to PhDs who can argue with perfectly watertight logic in their own field but start contradicting their own standards for evidence and argument as soon as their religious (or political…politics is virtually a religion these days) views enter the discussion.

12. atheistgirl - June 23, 2008

blech. is it just me, or does it seem like these arguments are always the same? they get so boring after a while. humans are just too damn stubborn. we always have to prove that “we’re right and they’re wrong” it’s kind of sickening that we can’t accept people the way they are (and yes, that sounded really cheesey) oh, and Mark, sorry but i was a catholic before and i still get a little insulted when people say stuff like that. catholics aren’t all the same. (and same goes for every other religious/nonreligious group)

13. Emily - June 23, 2008

My favorite is number 4. It is so cool. I love the way you answered him.

I envy you ’cause you have the courage to tell everyone that you’re an atheist & brave enough to face those people.

Unlike me, I’m still not brave enough to tell them I’m an atheist. :/

14. GDad - June 23, 2008

You know what would totally rock? If we could print a little booklet of short, easy responses to this nonsense. We could carry around the books, and when people said any of these things, we could just tear out a page with the appropriate response and give it to them. It may drive home the point that their arguments are neither original nor solid.

I’ll even release this idea under GPL 2.0, provided nobody else has thought of it first.

15. Agersomnia - June 24, 2008

fun idea, GDad! =)

I like it, and would help to do the spanish translation.

16. Mark - June 25, 2008

AtheistGirl, You ought to have noticed that I (very carefully, I might add) pointed out that I am making this point on the basis that every Catholic whom I have knowingly met has been a nutcase. My mother, who is a firm believer in Christ, also thinks Catholics are nutters, and my father, who is a bit of an agnostic, thinks the same. Now, if you point to some people who are alleged Catholics and indicate all the ways in which they are reasonable then you are most likely pointing out the ways in which they are not actually Catholic. You cannot be a Catholic just by saying you are: it’s a club, with a Club Leader, who makes all the rules and tells you what you have to subscribe to; there’s a great big book full of the stuff you’re supposed to believe.

Catholic? Using a condom? No, you’re not Catholic.
Catholic? Don’t think Mary was always a virgin? No, you’re not Catholic.
Catholic? Think abortion might be justified in some circumstance? No, you’re not Catholic.

Hence, to be Catholic you must go along with the contents of the official textbook. It’s like programming Visual Basic and saying it’s C++, no it ain’t, the person who wrote the book reserves the absolute right to say what the rules are.

Personally, my mind boggles at how theists of any flavour can believe any of the bizarre, unsubstantiated bollocks they come out with. I’ve had people (yes, Catholics) tell me that people have been buried in landslides because god was punishing them for slandering Marythemotherofgod. And that a priest made the signofthecross in front of the tsunami in Indonesia and the waves subsided.

Do you know what planet these people are on? I’m sorry, but on all of the available evidence, there is no god or, if there is, if he’s so happy fucking about with minor landslides when he lets people suffer in Zimbabwe and lets children shit themselves to death, then he can suck my arse.

17. hrs - June 25, 2008

Hey, we atheists should hold a high opinion about ^S^atan 😛
Check this out,its soo cute 🙂
-> http://www.lucifer.com/lucifer.html

18. My Top 10 Emerging Influential Blogs for 2008 | Prudence and Madness - July 8, 2008

[…] and do check out her Top 5 Encountered Debate Tactics.  […]

19. Titus Pullover - July 8, 2008

My favorite is Fred:

“Well, all of my friends think you’re an elitist bitch!”

“Elitist” = smarter than Fred and his friends? They sure have lowered the standards for “elite.”

“Bitch” = “Keep in your place, woman. 3 steps behind us manly men.”

is there something horrible Fred doesn’t do? What’s next, killing a kitten?

20. warren - July 9, 2008

i find it interesting you are so convinced you are correct in your assessment. you seem very bright. as for me, i am not so sure. i was raised under very harsh conditions ( abusive environment w/ no religious influence ). i went to college, found friends immersed in similar thoughts, but met and married a woman who is very religious. my kids (i have several now) are seeing life differently than me. i am uncertain, but convinced they should have their own free will to decide. i hope God exists, but i am not unsure given my scientific background. i can say that it is a wonderful concept, so i am hopeful.

21. Agersomnia - July 9, 2008


Dinineity is usually not a bad “concept”. Makes for good stories, warm hearts, gives hope, etc.

The problem is the organized religion that comes after the concept meets reality.

On the other hand, there is a related concept that also becomes a problem when in contact with reality: That of an afterlife, be it a heaven and hell, reincarnation, whatever.

It devaluates THIS life, as it becomes less precious, and thus taken more lightly. Injustice left here? don’t wooorry… imaginary punishments in the afterlife await the offender, so why do you care if that person is not in jail? HA! opium to keep a few in control of many

You were squished by others all your life? Heaven or a better incarnation await, and your suffering cleanses you. HA! cheap logic to keep life quality of the masses by the sewer.

22. beau - July 19, 2008

hey im growing up in a christian household
how do i tell my mom i think her god is shiit

23. Teen Atheist - July 19, 2008

Now, now, Beau, let’s not provide more fodder for the “Atheists are hostile jerks” trope that religious folk are spreading around. 🙂

24. endocrinethrill - July 30, 2008

Hey, if you want to use the TM symbol. it’s alt+0153 on the numpad 🙂

25. a different teen atheist. - July 31, 2008

You are sooo awesome and hit the nail on the head time and time again. Here is one you forgot…

6. The I’m Sympathetic and Tolerant (but not really)
I had a teacher, my commons (like advisory) teacher, who was talking to me about not saying the pledge of allegiance. There are many reasons I don’t, but I always give the “under god” argument first, because people are most familiar with it and it is something that they have heard before and understand. It is more tangible than my other reasons. So anyhow, when I mentioned my atheism, she was like, “Yeah, well, I think everyone has the right to their own beliefs” and “I am really tolerant, etc., etc.”. At this point I knew that there was going to be a “But…” and there was.

She said she would be ashamed, or disappointed (or some other negative word) if her kids didn’t believe in god. It sounded like she would seriously consider disowning them. Then she launched into “what about the troops” which is another point entirely, but anyway…

My point is, I have encountered this more than I would like. It usually fits this mold: “(passive aggressively) Well, you can believe whatever you want because this is AMERICA and we are FREE and I am really TOLERANT, but…” And then usually followed up by a really bigoted or ignorant and intolerant statement against, or generalization about, atheists.

I don’t know if anyone has any method of how to respond to this particular tactic. I can’t remember how I responded, but I am pretty sure it was inadequate.

26. Teen Atheist - August 1, 2008

Good one, Other Teen Atheist! 😀 That is so true. I think the way to counter that kind of argument is to simply point out the contradiction in the statement. “Well, then, you’re not really tolerant because you said…”

My mother uses that argument. “I’m not ashamed of you, and I’m not a bigot, but your atheism is a personal disappointment to me…”

27. a different teen atheist - August 7, 2008

Yeah, I think that is the most reasonable way of going about it. It doesn’t change the person’s mind most of the time, but it can show them flaws in their argument. Hopefully they will begin to see some of the shortcomings in their blind faith. The best we can do is to help people to question things. If you begin to critically think about things, even things you steadfastly believe, you can at the very least begin to understand other points of view.

I find it hardest to argue with someone who says truly moronic things. It is hard to respond to “Well, if there is no god, then why are we all still alive?” because there are so many fundamentally flawed things in that question. I find myself standing there not knowing where to begin, and they take that as a victory. It is so frustrating. Also, arguing with people who don’t understand what they are arguing against. GRR!

I live in a very liberally religious area, and I don’t deal with as much discrimination as a lot of atheists out there, and yet I recognize every single one of those arguments. People are very much the same from place to place.

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