Afternoon Inquisition 8.23

Hello, all you wonderful Skepchick readers. You’re so beautiful…I’m getting a little farklempt. Talk amongst yourselves. I’ll give you a topic:

As a skeptic and/or non-theist, what do you think about dialogue with believers? Do you find it fulfilling in any way, or do you find it to be a waste of time?


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  1. I talk to believers all the time. I have friends who are atheists, agnostics, pagans, Buddhists, Jews and Christians, maybe other things I’m not aware of. Some of us sometimes talk about beliefs and spirituality and some of us just talk about other common interests. Although I think religion, especially organized religion, is dangerous in many ways, I don’t find individual religious people to be in any way unacceptable or less interesting as friends than unbelievers.

  2. Farklempt? What? lol

    Well it depends on the dialogue and what the conversation entails. If it’s discussing religion then I personally don’t find it fulfilling unless there is some way that we’re able to agree or at least respect each others opinions. If it’s just talking about mundane things such as the weather or kids or something then I have no problem talking with them. :) I don’t avoid them like the plaque or anything. If fact, every summer I usually am a counselor for a little kids camp at a local church and I don’t mind it at all! The people are very nice, though I’m sure if they knew an atheist/skeptic was taking care of their kids they’d go ape shit…but I just try not to make it obvious or talk about it lol.

    I typically never find shouting matches/debates with Christians very fulfilling because I think it’s a waste of time to try and change someone’s mind that’s already made up.

  3. I find it extremely interesting and fulfilling to dialogue with believers on a great many topics. But not about religion.

    Religion just has nothing interesting to add to any discussion, and despite my attempts to give liberal religion the benefit of the doubt, I just don’t see anything it has to add to any discussion whatsoever. Religion offers no unique insights or perspectives. Most of the good things religion encourages are in fact better argued from a humanistic standpoint, while on the other hand religion does bring a whole truckload of garbage with it: unexamined premises, loaded assumptions, illogical biases, inflexible but utterly arbitrary “absolutes”.

    The most religion can add to a discussion is obfuscation. For instance, my workplace evidently has a “believers” mailing list (most of the mailing lists are employee-created, so we likewise have mailing lists about World of Warcraft or rock-climbing or whatever else random hobbies people have; i.e., the believers list is not officially-sanctioned in any way), which an atheist friend of mine signed up for on a lark and occasionally forwards to me. Recently, I got one comparing Peter’s and Judas’ responses to their betrayal of Christ. The upshot was “gee, it’s not a good idea to beat yourself up about things you’ve done wrong”. Only it went on for three irrelevant, jargon-filled pages to get to that point.

    Yawn. Call me when you’ve got something to say that doesn’t take an hour to get to a completely trivial point.

  4. Ruling out discussion with all believers is just as unproductive as condemning all skeptics/atheists to the pits of hell. Of course I’ve had fulfilling discussions with believers. (Why, some of my best friends…)

    It’s naturally difficult to discuss religion specifically, but in my experience it’s not hard to find intelligent people who also enjoy critical thinking and interesting discussion, who happen to also have religious belief. There are a million interesting things to talk about besides religion, but I’ve also had plenty of compare-and-contrast religious discussions with believer friends who were very tolerant. The super-fundies? Yeah, they’ll bring up religion constantly and unless you want to lie to them, you probably won’t get far in conversation. But as a general rule, thumbs up to discussion with believers.

  5. In my experience talking to believers is mainly just frustrating because no matter how much you try to have a mature conversation, each side gets defensive and accusatory along the lines of:

    “Well X is this kind of fallacy, I’ll explain…”
    “You’re just being closed-minded.”
    “Actually, I’m just trying to think logically. That doesn’t make me cosed-minded, it just means I don’t believe everything I hear.”
    “Yes you are closed-minded. Otherwise you’d believe in something. You HAVE to believe in SOMETHING.”
    “No I don’t. I can just accept or not accept things based on logic.”
    “What’s the difference?”
    “Sigh, you’re just being arrogant and assuming everyone has to believe something because you do.”
    “No I’m not!”


    I can learn about religion/the paranormal/pseudoscience by reading about it or something and avoid ending up in an argument. Then they can avoid thinking that all skeptics think we’re better than everyone else because we point out flaws in arguments and reasonable alternatives to their hooky claims.

    For the people who can stomach it, great. Because usually the hooky will make themselves look stupid well enough during the debate without much help from the skeptic, which is great for the fence-sitters. But I just can’t take them anymore.

  6. Never having been religious, and having been raised by non-religious parents, I am always trying to understand more about the religious mindset. Why does a person believe? What role does evidence play? Reason? Personal experience?

    As long as I’m not being preached to, I find most discussions with believers can teach me something enlightening. If I’m in a real Zen state of contentment, even a little preaching doesn’t hurt.

    Simply put, I’m insatiably curious about my fellow humans, and the vast majority of them are believers. I’d be shutting off a whole lot of useful experience if I avoided talking to believers.

  7. I talk about religion all with my friends a lot. I was a preacher’s kid growing up, so naturally, religion was very important to me and everyone in my family. I’ve just recently started questioning my beliefs (thanks to a friend who introduced me to skepticism), and now I consider myself an agnostic.

    Unfortunately, I’m not able to tell my friends or my family this, because it would only cause them anxiety and fear for my soul. Nevertheless, in talking with my friends, I like to pose questions that got me thinking very hard about the validity of Christianity, and see if their arguments are good and solid, or just the same old stuff I grew up hearing and believing. It can often be fulfilling, especially when I feel I’ve given them something good to think about.

  8. I’m with ya, Kimbo… I’ve had so many debates with creationists, and those debates have caused some of the most frustrating moments of my life. The last time a friend brought it up with me, I shut down the topic by asking if they thought the earth was older than 6000 years. They said no, so I said there was probably no point in discussing evolution either (macro-evolution, anyways). I suppose it was a bit of a cop-out, and it was not a fulfilling discussion for either of us, but at least I didn’t end up getting worked up by attempting to try and reason someone out of a belief, and I denied them getting up on their spiritual high-horse. Logic can’t take a stand against belief, unless that person is ready for it.

    I guess the flip side of that is that if you don’t add a rational thought to the discussion, then that rational thought never gets heard… and who knows when you will do some good, even if you don’t think you’re making any headway in the moment?

  9. I find discussing religion (and associated hot topics like reproductive rights,marriage, etc) is a waste of time.

    But in general, talking with them is like talking to anyone else.

    The few remaining theist friends I have are very intelligent and I find discussion with them to be rewarding. Except for said topics above.

  10. It’s naturally difficult to discuss religion specifically

    Why “naturally”? I discuss all kinds of topics with people with whom I disagree without finding it difficult, so why should religion be different? I would agree that it’s difficult — or impossible — for an unbeliever to discuss religion with (most) fundamentalists, but many religious people have lots of ideas about their faith which I personally find interesting, even if I do not feel the same way.

  11. I’ve had so many debates with creationists, and those debates have caused some of the most frustrating moments of my life.

    That’s the problem. I hate debates. They are a waste of everyone’s time. Discussions can be interesting though.

    “Well X is this kind of fallacy, I’ll explain…”

    That’s the problem. You’re trying to disprove their beliefs and get all uppity sounding about it (yes the word “fallacy” sounds uppity to most people). Why do we have to do that? We don’t.

    I think its the tone and attitude that many unbelievers and skeptics take with believers that makes them go on the defensive. I have talked about my atheism with many believers and have, frankly, never had anyone respond to me in that way. Sure I’ve had family members say, “You must believe in SOMETHING!” because they really don’t understand. But I don’t see that as a barrier against continuing the discussion. Yes, I do believe in many things, but none of them are supernatural.

    I never try to convince anyone to abandon their beliefs though. That’s futile and it will cause more walls to go up than you can imagine. Just getting them to realize that some people don’t believe is enough to get them thinking, in my opinion.

    I also have some religious and “spiritual” friends whom I find very inspiring and with whom I am more than happy to discuss faith and spirituality, in part because I am interested in what makes them different from other religious believers who are dogmatic fools, and in part because they are my friends and I am interested in them as people.

  12. I enjoy debating and discussing with believers, but it’s ultimatly frustrating. They just ignore so much. “Yes yes well that’s all probably true, but look at this one obscure example?” or “Well sure that makes sense where you get your morality from, but how can you get your morals without an ultimate source?”

  13. “Believers” doesn’t necessarily equate to “religious believers”. Many of us have deeply rooted ideals (ideologies, if you will) that we’ve never taken the time to examine critically. And we get positively insane when they are challenged.

    I like to hang out at skeptic sites because the ratio of folks that have examined their beliefs critically is higher than anywhere else. And the likelyhood of getting a reasoned challenge to those beliefs is greater…it is thus more likely that an incorrect pov or erroneous belief will be eliminated, and a correct (though unexamined) one become more reasoned, less dogmatic.

    When I talk to religious folks, I avoid challenging their core beliefs, and stick to the portions of the real world they are comfortable with…once I get to know them, and they get to know me, we can go into more controversial territory because we’re friends, and know that at some point we’ll just agree to disagree.

  14. It depends on whether they are “skeptical” “believers”. If they are skeptical and intelligent, I can learn a lot and have an interesting conversation. If they are not skeptical, and are merely true believers, then the situation is very frustrating and seems, mostly, a waste of time.

    I don’t talk to too many religious types. I mainly just nod my ahead and try to give a somewhat sincere, non-idiotic smile.

    I comment on blogs to liberal political types and various types of feminists and I wish there was much more skepticism, I think both movements would make a lot more progress if there were. Instead of skepticism, I mainly see true believers calling out the heathens and trying to stone them.

  15. As a rule (which I am breaking, yes, shush) I don’t talk about religion except with people I know well. It seems like so inflammatory a subject that even minor differences can blow up to unpleasant situations, hurt feelings, and acrimony. It seems like a matter of politeness to avoid it (and certain other inflammatory topics). As for friends who are believers, my experience has been that there’s really nothing to be gained by trying to change someone’s beliefs. I would like to understand how people come to believe the things they do, but I’ve had more luck with that in other aspects of life.

  16. I’m not sure quite what I’m expecting to get out of the discussions I’m involving myself in at present. A large part of it is that I’m fascinated by the subject, I like writing, I enjoy writing about this, and it’s throwing up some interesting topics to philosophise about. I’m not expecting to change anyone’s mind about anything, but it’s interesting trying to establish exactly where the real differences are, the fundamental disagreements which I’m never going to bridge over a series of sporadic posts on the internet.

    I had a discussion recently with a work colleague who thought evolution was nonsense, but it was a while before we uncovered anything we actually disagreed on. She threw out several examples of nonsense (tornado-through-a-junkyard type ideas) which she associated with evolution, and I agreed they were ridiculous. I tried to explain some of the basic principles of natural selection, as best I could, and she nodded and seemed to consider it reasonable enough. I never imagined I could change her mind, or even do much to increase her understanding, but it was interesting how we clearly weren’t disagreeing about what we might have thought we were at first.

    Also, I trust myself not to get involved in a way that might damage any relationships I don’t want damaged. A lot of my friends are religious in some way, liberally enough so to take some light banter and the odd curious question, but I try not to push it. I’ll sometimes engage with people I don’t know online, particularly if I see an easy chance to correct some misconceptions about atheism, but I can trust myself too not to get caught up beyond a point where it’s no longer fun.

  17. Dangerous.

    That’s what I think of talking to believers about religion: I think it’s one of the seven deadly subjects. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, however. I made a comment about how it was too bad Will Smith seemed to be into Scientology (I have since heard he’s not–just that he “deeply respects” it… cough cough), and how “it won’t stop me from watching his movies, but now I’ll shake my head afterward and think ‘it’s too bad about that Will Smith’.” One of my theist friends told me that if I replaced “Scientologist” with “Jew”, that I would be “ashamed of what I just said”.


  18. I’ve been talking to Christians on a christian blog about evolution, ID and theology and I find it quite interesting (but sometimes frustrating) to hear their arguments. The hardest part is convincing some people that I’m not trying to disprove their God or convert them when I say “evolution is a plausible scientific theory”; they always seem to interpret it that way. Also, there seem to be a theme by which the most vocal people on this blog constantly misrepresent claims made by scientists.

    I am, however, making some progress in understanding their point-of-view even if I don’t agree with it. I have determined that asking questions that get them to think about their own beliefs is a much better way to get answers out that aren’t just rehashed arguments from Michael Behe or Kent Hovind.

    I’m not entirely sure I’d call my experiences “fulfilling” or “worthwhile”, but I’m going to have to go with Spock on this one and say its certainly “fascinating”.

  19. Most of the time I don’t find it productive or enjoyable. Most of the religious people I have had these discussions with make the same old arguments. “You can’t explain where every single thing comes from so god did it.” “My preacher told me no one is an atheist.” “But what about the bible? It’s all right there in the bible, how can you not beleive?” “You don’t have to beleive in god, god believes in you.” “Yes, I would have been a christian even if I was born in Thailand and was raised a muslim.” “Free will, Free will, that’s why you will burn in hell.” Sometimes I will have a discussion that doesn’t veer into one of these tired old sayings or something similar. Those can be a lot of fun. But, mostly I try to avoid them. I think most christians either don’t believe or are very careful to not examine their beliefs.

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