Debating An Atheist: 4 Things I Learned

I tangled with an atheist. Here’s how, here’s why, and here’s what I learned from it.

At the risk of sounding cliche, it all started through an online science fiction forum, which I had just recently joined. I soon became painfully aware that the atmosphere was (unsurprisingly) anti-Christian. In fact, it was pretty much anti-anything that had to do with religion. I guess you could think of it as a room full of raw oxygen: all it takes is a single spark and – in the immortal words of Barney Fife – “KABLOOIE!”

Leave it to yours truly to bring out, not just a match, but a whole stinkin’ flamethrower.

One of the other members wrote in to say that she was preparing to work her way through Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot. I responded that I had read it and enjoyed it; that the stories were all interesting, even though Asimov’s worldview was “off-base”.

Now, I swear I wasn’t trying to start anything. Looking back, though, I have no idea why I thought I could get away with saying something like that. I should’ve seen what was coming next…

An athiest picked up on my comment. After two or three exchanges, that particular discussion thread pretty much exploded. It was as if the atheists on the forum were just waiting for somebody like me to step out of line, because as soon as I did – well, you get the picture. As the debate lengthened, the forum moderator (a rabid atheist herself ) eventually got fed up: she told us to pipe down or move our discussion elswhere.

We opted to pipe down. At least, for the moment.

Next thing I knew, my original “opponent” decided to write an entire blog post on the subject of the debate. He linked to it on the forum page and invited everyone to read it… even though I know he was probably eyeing me. I took the bait. The rest, they say, is history.

There really wasn’t a “winner”, per se, at all. The debate ended in a sort of draw – which is to say he got tired of arguing with me and told me to go away (though not in so many words). At any rate, I’m glad it happened. It was a learning experience for me; an oppurtunity to stand up, speak out, and consider. Here’s what I got out it it:

  • 1) You must know what you believe and why you believe it. Bible study and solid apologetics are the key to this. When someone has you up against a metaphorical wall getting ready to cut your metaphorical throat, you really should think about why you got into a fight in the first place. If you have no real, concrete answer to that question… well, that’s hardly comforting as you bleed out all over the ground.
  • 2) You must be able to articulate your beliefs. Knowing what and why isn’t enough: being able to clearly state, argue, and defend your beliefs is equally important. As 1 Peter 1:13 says, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…”
  • 3) There is no magic word. For some reason I had it in my head that, when confronted with an atheist, all I’d have to do is whip out one of the arguments I’d learned in studying apologetics and alakazam! my opponent would be instantly tongue-tied. Stupid me. As I quickly discovered, an atheist who “knows his stuff” is a slippery fish. You can throw spears of logic and apologetic reasoning all you want, and he’ll generally find a way to dodge. Pinning him to the wall is hard work. Which also taught me that…
  • 4) It’s not an intellectual problem, it’s a heart issue. I knew this already, but the debate drove it home. The heart of an atheist (and of every sinner, for that matter) cannot be changed through hardcore reasoning and clever rhetoric alone; true, God may choose to use those as tools, but ultimately, only the light of His grace can open the eyes of the blind and give sight to the sightless.

As the argument concluded and we went our separate ways, the atheist told me that he understood my position, even though he didn’t accept it. He’d grown out of it a long time ago, and he said he hoped I would do the same eventually.

By God’s grace, that’ll be the day pigs fly.

15 thoughts on “Debating An Atheist: 4 Things I Learned”

  1. Well, seems you have cut your teeth in apologetic debate. Now the real fun begins! :-) I’ve been involved in a few debates before, not with an atheist, but with a number of other people, and I found the same thing, you don’t just whip out a magical argument, despite how logical it is, and suddenly stun them with silence. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. Good post, my friend, this really does give us things to think about.

    1. Thanks, Mike. I’d been in debates before, but this was the first time I’d gotten into a serious argument with an atheist. It was intense, and not exactly fun, but I’m glad it happened. :D

  2. Wow, this is a great post, Corey. Don’t you just love the internet–without it you’d lose out on some great sharpening chances. ;) Have you heard Greg Bahnsen’s cd sets ‘Defending the Christian Worldview Against All Opposition’? Very worth it. His atheist talks are really good.

    1. Thank you, CG – glad you stopped by! I have not heard of that CD set, but Greg Bahnsen is certainly a familiar name. I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. :D

  3. Sounds fun, man. Check out some of William Lane Craig’s stuff against atheism. He wrote a book called Hard Questions Real Answers about doubt. He also wrote a book about defending Christianity with precision and reason called On Guard. I plan on reading both eventually.

  4. Awesome post, my son! I’m thankful for these opportunities that make one examine what he believes and if he’s able communicate those beliefs well. It’s seems so inadequate to say that I’m proud of you, but I am SO proud of you and pray you always give the glory to God in everything you do. Who’s the teacher these days? Love you!

  5. Well, I’m going to follow your mama and say that I’m proud of you too. Those are important points to learn and I am so glad to see that you have a healthy grasp on #4. I pray that the seed you’ve sown will sprout and bud and take off, and may it please God to bring those hardened hearts to Christ for His glory. Blessings!

  6. I’ll be praying that pigs never fly, then ;)

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m a BIG apologetics/evangelist person, so this made me smile. I would have loved to join that conversation! :D

    I’m glad you were edified and pulled something from the conversation, and that now, we are all edified too :] It’s a good reminder that salvation is a heart issue, though- because it just goes to show that you could know Christian theology backwards and forwards and still not go to Heaven when you died, because it never made those 12 inches down into your heart. o_o (Which also applies to our walk as well- I mean, even if you know stuff, it’s not really any use until it’s more than head knowledge.)

    Anyway, thanks for the post!

  7. I intentionally stepped into a piranha pool the other day for the sheer fun of it. *whistle* good thing I’ve studied philosophy and apologetics a lot, that’s all I have to say. But FUN is a good description anyway. :D

  8. Interesting piece! As an atheist, I certainly appreciate your first three points; it certainly makes for more productive discussion when ground rules are agreed upon at the outset! Knowing your positions firmly in your mind makes for an easier platform to freely converse without too much semantic red tape. Often, discussions get bogged down because Theists, particularly non-denominational Christians, have a murky, nebulous, semisolid ‘feeling’ about their faith, rather than a concrete vision of their belief system, which can obviously result in shaky foundations for a formal debate.

    Not that matters too much, but I’d just like to draw your attention that the verse you wanted to quote was Peter 3:15, not 1:13, which instead refers to Christ’s revelation at His coming.

    Best of luck with your debating career!

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