Free thought blogger and atheist activist JT Eberhard has given a talk several times this year about why the arguments for the existence of God fail. During the talk, Eberhard discusses his year-long experiment of attending church and asking Christians why they believe in God. The lecture is designed to give atheists an outline of how to dialogue with believers and deconvert them. I have to admit, it was very interesting to watch; Eberhard is a talented speaker, and it’s good that he’s trying to foster discussion between two groups of people who tend to ignore each other.
Having said that, I think there are some additional debating tips atheists should be made aware of before they go on a campaign to debunk Christianity. So, if you’re an atheist and reading this post, take the following into consideration.
Argue with people who can answer your questions
The sad fact, and Eberhard confirmed this, is that the average church goer isn’t prepared to rebut the typical skeptical arguments, however ridiculous they may be. This is no doubt a problem that churches need to take seriously and begin addressing, but atheists shouldn’t make uninformed church folk their targets if they’re truly interested in a meaningful discussion.
Instead of quizzing some member of your local church about the best arguments for the resurrection, go to an apologetics conference and ask the same questions. If you run in the same circle that Eberhard runs in, get in touch with the Ratio Christi group at your university. The chances are that somebody or some group of people in your area is willing and prepared to have a thoughtful discussion about the reasons to believe in God. The same rules apply to the internet. Don’t engage in a pointless debate on youtube; go to theologyweb, leave a comment on this blog, or find another apologetics blogger who can answer your arguments. In sum, don’t reach for the “low hanging fruit,” as Eberhard put it.
Read books not written by Richard Carrier
Richard Carrier is a scholar and a good writer. But he’s only one guy, and apparently one of the few writers most atheists turn to for information about the Bible. And since he takes some rather unique positions (to put it politely) on issues like the Christ-myth, it would be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the work of other scholars. You don’t have to read just apologetics works, but New Testament studies is a massive field and there are more and better sources of information than Carrier, or Robert Price, or David Fitzgerald. Not only will you be better prepared for your debates, because you’ll lose if you rely on just those three, but you’ll get a chance to live up to that free thinker title you so proudly wear around. After all, what good does it do to only read authors you already agree with?
Don’t just make fun of Ray Comfort
Yes, the banana argument is dumb. Come to think of it, a lot of the arguments put forward by popular Christian apologists are dumb, or at least oversimplified. So as part of your reading assignment described above, read books written by conservative scholars. People like Ben Witherington, Daniel Wallace, and Craig Blomberg are good examples. These are the people putting up the most compelling defenses of the Christian faith. Worry about what they have to say, not popular evangelists like Comfort.
Remember that we’re not all creationists
You may know all the reasons why a literal Genesis creation story is ridiculous. And you may have memorized all of Richard Dawkins’ arguments. But what happens when the Christian you’ve approached informs you that he accepts evolution? There go all those platitudes about the incompatibility of science and religion, the God of the gaps, etc. If you really are so certain that Christianity is a flawed worldview, then make sure you have a solid understanding of what it teaches. Don’t base your skepticism on the fact that some Christians harbor weird ideas.