Tag Archives: logic

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.

Condemning Condemnation

It always makes me laugh when, during the course of a debate, one of the participants resorts to the “Condemning Condemnation” card. You know. Like when someone says that such-and-such is wrong and their opponent immediately declares, “But it’s wrong for you to judge!”

Wait… what?

One of my favorite parts in Gregory Koukl’s Tactics is when he shares a conversation where this sort of fallacious argument reared its ugly head. He promptly nips it in the bud.

Lee: I’m not a homosexual, but I think it’s wrong to condemn anybody for anything.

Greg: Why are you condemning me, then?

Lee: What?

Greg: I said, why are you condemning me if you think it’s wrong to condemn people?

Lee: I’m responding to the fact that a lot of Christians condemn people.

Greg: I understand. And it sounds like you’re condemning me because I just condemned homosexuality as wrong.

Lee: Yes, I am. You are supposed to love everybody.

Greg: Wait a minute. You’re not listening to yourself. You just said it’s wrong to condemn people. And now you admit you’re condemning me. So I’m asking, why are you doing the very same thing that you say is wrong when I do it?

Lee: No, I’m not. [Lee pauses as the light slowly begins to dawn.] Okay, let’s put it this way. I’m not condemning you, I’m reprimanding you. Is that better?

Greg: Then my comments about homosexuals are simple reprimands as well.