My requirements for talking god

Since being home for the holidays, I’ve had three people from my high school class message me on facebook and ask if I’d like to go grab coffee/beer and talk about my beliefs.  This is nothing new.  The problem is that I’ve found that more often than not, “Let’s meet because I’m curious about your views” is synonymous for, “Let’s meet in private so I can waste your time without penalty” or, “Let’s meet in private so I can throw a myriad of muddy arguments at the wall and hope one of them sticks.”  To avoid this, I’ve developed a list of requirements for meeting anybody to talk about god, and I thought I’d share them.

Conversations are a two way street in which both participants need to be willing to alter their position if it makes sense to do so.  Conversations are what I want to be involved in.  In order to avoid wasting my time in a one-sided non-conversation (as I have done many times before learning my lesson), I have developed the following questions and requirements.



First, I’ll need you to tell me what could change your mind.  If you cannot envision anything that could change your mind, then you’re inviting me to a situation where you expect me to be open to evidence, but are unwilling to play by the same standards  yourself.  Why should I bother?

Second, if I show that one of your arguments is a bad argument, how will that affect your position?  Will you alter your position accordingly or will you maintain the exact same position and just move on to the next argument, and the next, and the next, and so forth?  If I show one of your arguments to be faulty, will you stop using it in the future?  For instance, if you ask me for a transitional fossil and I rattle off a lengthy list of them, will you try that ploy again with your next target hoping that they don’t have the list at hand, or will you accept that transitional fossils exist and change your mind to incorporate this fact (and correct your Christian colleagues when they make the same bad argument in your presence)?  If not, why should I bother with you?

These are both important questions that will tell me a lot about whether or not giving you my time will prove worthwhile.  Your answers should also tell you about how fairly you intend to play in our potential conversation.

Recommendations, Warnings, and Requirements

Should I agree to chat with you, I have a few recommendations for making sure the conversation yields productive fruit.  For one, do not introduce new arguments while another argument has yet to be resolved.  If you advance a fact and I show that fact to be inaccurate, do not simply throw out another argument as though we are finished.  It is important to resolve individual arguments before moving forward.

Also, either provide evidence for your position or against mine.  Do not argue for why you shouldn’t have to be reasonable or for why you shouldn’t need to have evidence on your side.  Whichever position is more reasonable and has more supporting evidence is the one that should be accepted as true.  If you start making excuses for why you don’t have evidence or for why you should maintain your position even though it’s unreasonable (while expecting me to abandon mine if your arguments are better), then any sane human being would perceive that you are not playing fair and that you have conceded any arguments on the table.  That is how I will take it.

You do not get to have it both ways.  If you’re unwilling to abide by reason, then your faith is not reasonable; if your faith is a matter of utter certainty, then it has not integrated humility and doubt; and if your position will not change in the face of contradictory evidence, then you are not searching for the truth.  If you do not value your opinions enough to make them credible, then I have no interest in giving you any of my time (except in the form on an organized, public debate where I can hold you up as an example of the results of faith and flog you without mercy).

Now, a warning: Every single person I have conceded to talk religion with has thought they had some new fact or some new argument at their disposal.  Almost universally they were wrong.  I have spent the last six years engaging religious people on a daily basis.  It is highly, highly unlikely that I have not heard whatever you intend to say and even more unlikely that I will not be acutely aware of how to shred it.  Be aware of this going in.

Now why you should care about that: Whenever I agree to meet with someone, I insist that the conversation be filmed.  Afterward, I will post it unedited to my blog (you may also post the video of our conversation wherever you wish).  I don’t do this to be a dick.  I do this to create accountability.  If one of us engages in any of the behaviors I’ve described above, they should lose face.  The presence of such a penalty is in place to deter people from ignoring everything I’ve outlined so far and trying to waste my time anyway.  I don’t doubt that you’re sincere, but I do doubt that you’re not guilty of confirmation bias.  If you make bad arguments and don’t play fair, your religion’s image will suffer accordingly.  If you do play fair, then you will gain ground with the non-believers that read my blog.  If you’re unwilling to be taped, I would be willing to forgo the filming if you could set up our conversation in front of an audience.

So, if you’re willing to move forward at this point, please answer all the queries in the Questions section and confirm that you are alright with the video being published online.

  • Robbie


    Excellent and thought provoking post!

    How many friends of yours who asked you to talk about your non beliefs actually agreed to be videotaped? I'd venture to say that a whole lot of them will just drop off at that stage even if you solemnly swear you'll never use the video for public usage, only to go back and review what you just covered. No matter how much you convince them? There is always a reason to view people as pursuing their own agenda rather than pursuing of facts.

    I agree, this would be an ideal way to establish the common aspect of reference, agreements that you all share and what you can agree if they convince you the evidence is there or they agree that yours is compelling. There is no way out of it. In discussing religion this is especially important. In science this would be somewhat pointless unless this is a conference that is videotaped and then played; scientists resolve their differences not by public debate but by things thought out and put in writing as public debate often times comes down to the pissing contest and who is using the most verbiage, highly elevated language, convoluted concepts and drags red herrings across the argument that will take forever to debunk though it is just one sentence – e.g. like Creation Science proponents would do or Intelligent Design fellas.

    Once you agreed on something, then there is the only option left – move ahead and explore everything with the same framework. There is hardly any argument with it then. I wish Jesus could have been video taped and Internet existed 2,000 years ago. Then we could easily cross reference facts. Then there would be very little doubt.

    However, look at Mormonism today. It is a pretty much done deal – there are no facts and no evidence to prove that there have been any major battles in North America between native tribes and millions of people died in them. Yet the mythology persists and the Mormon church is one of the fastest growing churches in America (one can argue perhaps by the sheer number of babies born in Mormon families). The facts of the Mormon faith are undeniably false, yet this is not helping in rational discourse.

    Or take "non denominational" and "mainstream" Christian Evangelical Rick Warren who stated unequivocally he never was opposed gay marriage. A video surfaced of him openly endorsing Prop 8 in California (anti gay marriage initiative). To the best of my knowledge he never addressed this discrepancy later –

    Look at the two dates of the videos – SHOWS THAT RICK WARREN EITHER LIED OR JUST FRIGGING FORGOT HE SPOKE FOR PROP 8 – OR RICK WARREN IS COGNITIVELY DELUSIONAL and has no control of it. There maybe something else in-between, I am sure.

    Also at 0:45 seconds into the video Rick Warren makes a Freudian slip about definition of a "Chris[tian]" marriage. Hilarious, incredible, dishonest, misleading and absolutely bizarre line of thinking.

    I actually will go even further, it is a good idea to videotape yourself talking not just to any religious person about religion but everyday life in general. This way you have a full record of your life that day and can keep a record.

    Virtually all laptops today as well as desktops (middle to higher line) have built in web cams. You can buy a stand alone web cam for $20-50 and also stream live and record and store online anything you record. Would be actually an interesting experiment – I've seen some "trans humanists" folks on NOVA and CNN as well as other TV networks profiled who'd be recording it all.

    One can make a case that this is your freedom of speech and freedom of expression and even bring video cameras into work, church and bible studies as part of your "rights".

    This would make an interesting test case to see how open religious and other people are when it comes to "sunshine policy" and transparency. Granted, your employer can have different rules about it, you may have a sensitive job, but in reality even in a private setting there is less and less well defined "expectation of privacy". It seems to be working both ways, those who report an event and those who can read about it while they were present or participated.

    One can make a case of a "philosophy" or religion that requires video taping as part of communion with reality when in doubt you can go back and check your interpretation of reality, which will be quite disturbing to many religious folks and ministers in particular.

    I can see how this can be troubling to them, also they can cling to legalistic means of expectation of privacy in a private sectarian setting of a church, for instance.

    But how about an expectation of the other party who is video taping to be upfront and honest about what they are doing and why they are doing. This by itself can actually serve as an "alienation" and "abolition" tool that Karl Marx talked about in his writings about religion being an expression of the masses in a classical capitalistic society.

    An interesting point you are making. I like it. I am curious how would religious people at a sermon would act? – well, many churches already post sermons online, so this is not an issue. Unless they object to their faces being publicly displayed online (which most likely you won't) unless you create a "religion" of "my life is 24/7 open just like I am looking at the world".

    Also, another matter to consider. Would 24/7 video recording reduce the number of false convictions? Would people be more honest? I bet they will be. There have been studies that clearly demonstrated that people will tip more when there is a cut out of human eyes over a cookie jar in a shop that uses "honesty is the best policy". When there was just a sign – donate what you feel is right vs. added cut out of human eyes, the donations went up. If human presence is there, then the donations go even higher, so video recording will make people be even more "moral" and "just" so to speak.

    I personally, don't see any reason for this not to take place. The question is if the world is ready for it with all the hoopla over liberties and government and private corporations collecting information about us and targeting ads to our eye balls.

    Questions, questions. More questions than answers.

  • JT Eberhard


    "Whichever position is more reasonable and has more supporting evidence is the one that should be accepted as true."

    Memorize it.


  • Robbie


    This is pretty rational, self containing, self explanatory and just self evidence. You have to have a basic agreement on how rules of the game are played. If you don't have accountability on both parts, then either side can claim whatever they want, twist what happened and later continue acting irrationally as if no consensus has been reached and no minds have been changed.

    Videotaping allows 100% accountability and serves as a deterrent to irrational statements, unsubstantiated claims, and further actions. Granted this can throw off people (on both sides) but this is just how the cookie crumbles.

    Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History.

    — Bumper Sticker

  • Arthur


    I love how one person says they want a conversation about religion recorded to confirm good behavior, then another person points out that it is possible and legally acceptable to video tape themselves….you conclude that atheists (all atheists mind you!) want the government to record all things.

    You do get how insane that is right? You've conflated three different ideas, personal recording at one instance, personal recording when someone wants legally, and the government always recording everything…..

    Go back. Read it.

    One person describes the requirements for debating him to insure neither side misrepresents things. Another person describes how it's legal to do this in many cases and even 24 hours a day if you wanted, excluding specific circumstances, and then the third person (you) claims atheist want the government to record all our daily lives.

    Who is misrepresenting things here? Isn't this a nice bit of irony?

    Isn't it strange that you can't seem to stay on subject and instead of answering the brunt of the argument and direction of thought – which seems entirely reasonable if both sides are intending to be honest and are honestly seeking the truth – but instead you have to go off into non sequitur's and ad hominem's?

    doesn't that seem odd? hmmm.

    You think it's totalitarian that I want the people to be able to video tape anything? You do get the difference between people and the government right?

  • Garrett

    Hey JT, great post! Where are your videos of you debating? You mention "Whenever I agree to meet with someone, I insist that the conversation be filmed. Afterward, I will post it unedited to my blog." Would appreciate a link to said videos for our viewing enjoyment. Thanks!

  • Pentupentropy

    Love this. Check my comment on reddit. I’d like to repost it. I don’t think I have EVER had a conversation that followed any of these guidelines.

  • Robbie


    If videotaping is not an option, I’d personally settle for writing down the ideas that we both agree on and have come to a consensus on.

    You do have to have the person sign and date the arguments. Multiple studies show that people don’t remember or deny what they committed to unless it is in writing. There has been a study of teen agers who signed pledges of abstinence. In a few months to a few years a huge percentage of them 40-70% if I remember totally forgot they signed it. They were even shown their pledges, one of them stated it was his signature but he did not sign it.

    I don’t see religious people willing to sign anything even in a private conversation, though it is no different than a confession with a minister in my opinion.

    There is something about religious dogma that prevents it from being rational.

    Oh, it’s “dogma” – Doh!

  • The Atheist Advocate

    One of my rules is for the theist to identify their god and doctrine. I can't refute a thing if I don't know the topic.

    1. Which god?

    2. Which scripture

    3. Are you a young earth creationist?

    4. Is scripture the inerrant word of your god?


    Once I understand what their belief structure is, I can handle any philosophical debate they wish. I still stand by my initial basic stance;

    "The burden of proof lies with the claimant. It is not the responsibility of the atheist to prove god does not exist. It is the burden of the theist to prove he does" ~ Kenny Duit

    This has NEVER been done in thousands of years, no matter the intellect, no matter the god. Postulation is easy, substantiation impossible, refutation expected.

  • Robbie

    //“Whichever position is more reasonable and has more supporting evidence is the one that should be accepted as true.”///

    The Internets – Where Religions Come to Die

    David Boise, attorney who represented 4 gay claimants against Prop 8 in California said on a few occasions "The witness chair is a lonely place to lie. You cannot lie, mislead, and misrepresent."

  • Puck T. Smith

    This is a very good approach. It has applications for other issue than religion. Would you mind if I adapted it a bit for my own use in discussions of the validity of a stateless society?

  • Will B

    I once had a class in college called "religions of the world" in which the teacher was suprisingly Unbiased (well as much as is humanly possible) and at the beginning with 33 students he said, "whatever your Views on faith, for the purposes of this class, leave them at the door. If you truly believe in something, this class can only strengthen those beliefs, if they are rooted in reason, otherwisw you should withdraw from this class now" He was a little more graceful an exact in saying this, but that was the jist of it. 2 people then left. 2 weeks later, when asked a question such as "how do you know this" after a student spoke, the student would reply, "because it says so in the Bible, or because God said so". That went on for a while from most of class, and after 3 weeks, it was a class of 10.

    Whatever ground rules you set, will most likely never be followed by 9 out of 10 people…Those people have a need for the invisible man.

  • JT Eberhard

    Pentupentropy and Puck T. Smith,

    Use whatever you like in whatever capacity you wish with or without citation. It's here for people to use.


  • WilRic

    Cross-post from Reddit:

    These rules are brilliant! I hate getting stuck in fake "discussions" that are really just an opportunity for some zealot to talk at me (about religion or anything else).

    Unfortunately, I don’t have the mental stamina to lay down the ground rules each time I suspect that’s what is about to occur. I could direct the zealots to that excellent article, but I know they won’t read it thoroughly enough.

    SOLUTION: Create a flowchart!

    … I wonder if my act of creating a flowchart demonstrates why nobody but religious nutbars talk to me at parties in the first place? :)

  • Will B

    Everyone knows one of those people who just have to forward every single sms and email they get, usually the Chain type. Anyways I got one 2 days that said a little girl walked through an alley to get to her house, and she passed a man in the alley, and as she passed she prayed to jesus that she would be ok. Later that night another little girl walked through the same alley, past the same man, and was Raped and murdered. When the man was asked why he left the first girl alone, he said because there was a man (presumably jesus) walking beside her.

    Now what the hell kind of story is that? That 1. Jesus does intervene in protecting children, and 2. only does so when they pray to him? If there was a god, and he operated like that, I would sooner go to hell then believe in him.

  • Will B

    And Finally, Just so you know who your up against, check out the "Logic" theyl'l be using against you:

  • Will B

    Sorry that Embed code didn't work out, here it is

  • Will B

    I guess HTML is disabled, here it is yet again

  • Robbie

    @Will B

    The flow chart is priceless! I think I will use it every time talking to a religious person and will ask them to sign and date it before getting anywhere with them.

    I think you need to promote it to PZ Myers (e-mail him from his site, point to this blog post) and let's see if a couple of thousand comments from his blog will not result in this blog bringing Kansas City to the forefront of rational thinking.

    Great chart again!

  • A Third Ant

    "'You're unnecessary,' said one ant to another ant." -A Third Ant.

  • Adam

    @ Will: AWESOME. We love it. I have included it in the article now and on Reddit (Under the name "Keeping Christians Honest – PART 2). It has a permanent home on our site now at…

  • http://facebook Rohan

    To end this argument one day God will himself come down and say ok here i m i created you and this whole universe people say oh…. so its u ok now tell us who created u ?????????…….. is there any End :)

    • Raharu

      More likely they’ll wonder why he demands murder & bigotry. “Oh, you are real? Well, you’re still an evil c*nt according to your own f*cked up rules. Piss off.”


    Good luck with that JT.

  • Scott Rassbach

    For the purposes of discussion:

    What constitutes evidence?

    For instance, eyewitness testimony is allowed as evidence in a court of law in the United States, as are historical documents. Of course, for a court of law, the question is usually simpler than philosophical discussions. For the purposes of discussion with you, are these considered evidence?

    If not, what is considered evidence?

    • Adam

      @ Scott: Let's start with this (because I don't want to limit the scope of what you can present)… anything you feel is "evidence", please present it. We prefer that it be verifiable, measurable, and unbiased. This means, skip the bible as a main source of proof. It's credibility isn't well-established (nor is it actual eye-witness testimony of anything) unless you want to discuss historical events, which can be backed up by other sources and geological evidence. When talking about evidence for the existence of god, it must be proof that he has done, is doing, or will do something that we can't explain by natural means.

      In other words, simply make a claim that can be tested. For me to claim that when I run a mile on a hot day I will sweat, I simply need to wait for a hot day (let's agree that we all understand what "hot" means) and run a mile. If I sweat, my claim was true. If I don't, then we can either call my claim invalid or look at measures of my experiment that were faulty (ie. it wasn't a hot day, I walked instead of running, my sweat glands don't work, etc.). If all the measures are in place and I don't sweat, then there is sufficient "evidence" to change my claim and say, "I don't sweat when I run a mile on hot days."

      GRADY and MORRISON have repeatedly said that any example we ask for we would obviously write off as "ALIENS DID IT" if it were proven to us. That's ridiculous and in essence calling us liars by presuming to know how we would react to evidence of god's existence.

      So, Scott, since you sound reasonable, and civil, please tell me what evidence you propose there is for the existence of god and we will all look at it rationally, skeptically, and fairly… as we would an extraordinary claim. You won't be "attacked" here by us (moderators – I can't speak for our readers – but I WILL delete malicious post against you as long as you remain polite as well). Your turn.

  • Tim Coombs

    Real and honest conversations involve people who are not interested in changing others, but in their openness to grow themselves. It seems both the author and his conservative evangelical "friends," don't quite get this.

    I am a Christian. I know many of you think I am foolish for having such a belief. I understand myself not so much as "believing" as "trusting" in God. To me, belief is intellectual assent to paradoxical premises. Trusting is relying on God's promises and presence.

    I share this, not to convince you and to make you scoff, but to offer a different perspective of what it means to be a Christian. Christians come in all shapes and colors as do atheists. Peace.

  • JT Eberhard


    Good question. The answer is that lots of things count as evidence, though some are better than others.

    As far as eye witness testimony goes, there are two types: second-hand testimony and personal, first-hand experience.

    1. Second-hand testimony

    This is the kind used in a court room (the judge/jury didn't see what happened, so they rely on someone else). This is the worst kind of evidence available to us, and we rely on it only when multiple people saw an event (so as to cross-check their personal experiences, more on that in the next section) and when other types of physical evidence are unavailable. And if the eye witness testimony contradicts the physical evidence (like DNA analysis), then the physical evidence is always given primacy.

    What's more, the outlandishness of the claim must also be taken into account. As Carl Sagan famously said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. So consider you have an eye witness making the following claims:

    1. "I saw a car."

    2. "I saw a nuclear missile."

    3. "I saw sixty-foot worm come out of the ground and eat my car."

    It's easy to accept the first one because lots of people own cars. It would take a little more evidence to accept the second, since nuclear missiles are hard to come by. For the last one, we should not listen to the eye witness without a bunch of complementary evidence since sixty foot car-eating worms are not known to exist.

    Consider how this works with religious claims. Christians will often cite that hundreds of witnesses in the bible saw Jesus rise from the dead and Muslims will cite the thousands in the hadith who saw Muhammad ascend into heaven aback a buraq (winged horse). But the claims these people are making are akin to the sixty-foot worm. They're even worse than that in terms of reliability because the worm doesn't violate any human knowledge – we just have never seen one. In the case of eye witnesses to someone rising from the dead, they're flying in the face of modern medicine which tells us that once the brain is electrically dead, then that person will not come back.

    On top of that, we don't know who wrote the gospels – though it was certainly not anybody who knew Jesus (Mark, the earliest gospel, was penned around 70 AD). So we cannot verify if they were a reliable source (perhaps they made up the eyewitnesses to Jesus' resurrection, as you surely believe the authors of the Hadith made up the witnesses to the buraq). So we're not relying on hundreds of second-hand witnesses – we're relying on one second-hand witness delivering the opinions of third-hand witnesses.

    What's more, even if we had a couple of hundred witnesses we could query, we should still demand higher evidence. After all, we have that and more today, right here in the 21st century, in the form of Sathya Sai Baba, who has millions of people attesting to his miracles. You can even find videos of Sai Baba performing miracles on youtube (I use the word 'miracle' very lightly in this case, but it's enough to convince millions of people). And yet nobody with their standard checks for gullibility in place is convinced (it doesn't even merit ten minutes on the Discovery Channel). Yet when you transpose this scenario to a time when magic was given much more serious consideration, people suddenly deem unquestionable witnesses as told by a single author to be reliable.

    So the answer to your question in the sense of second-hand eye witness testimony is that yes, it is evidence. But that it must be scaled with the starting probability that of the claim being true and must not be in conflict with the more reliable forms of evidence, like physical evidence. In the case of god, I'm unaware of any witness to his/her existence that meets this criteria.

    2. Personal experience

    The other kind of testimony is one you personally have. I will go ahead and concede that all evidence in the subjective sense boils down to personal experience. All the facts you have ever acquired were achieved this way, every lesson you learned was learned by experiencing it. Even every piece of physical evidence you encounter is transferred to your brain via personal experience. The problem is that our senses are not always reliable, so we have to cross-check our experiences to make sure they're reliable/accurate.

    As an example, look at this image of two tables. Your personal experience will tell you that the tables are different sizes, but you would be wrong. They are the same size, and you may utilize tools such as a ruler or tracing paper to confirm this. Afterward, you will still perceive them as different, but any rational human will grant primacy to the cross-checked result, not to what their senses are directly telling them. So we must conclude that entirely subjective personal experience can be improved upon. To graft this example onto Christianity, the personal experience is that a Canaanite Jew who rose from the dead has spoken to a person. However, the tool-checked facts of the matter support a different conclusion: that people do not rise from the dead.

    Like second-hand eye witness testimony, the reliability of personal experience scales with the bizarreness of the claim as with my earlier example of the car, the missile, and the giant worm. If you saw a car on the road, that's a pretty reliable experience. But what if, for instance, if you saw/heard a fish talk? Would you assume the fish really spoke or would you look for other explanations consistent with reality? Would you look for a hidden microphone? Would you check for other people in the house? Would you even go to a psychiatrist first to see if you were going crazy? I'd argue that a reasonable person would.

    We can also check our experiences against consistency with others. If we're all looking at a particular tree, we could all agree on the details of said tree: its height, graininess of the bark, color of leaves, etc. But we do not have this type of agreement with the details of god from people claiming to experience god directly. In fact, we have tons of people all over the planet giving contradictory accounts of god speaking to them. They cannot all be right. In fact, if Jesus is the one true god, then all the rest, the vast majority, must be wrong. So if the vast majority are wrong about hearing god's voice affirming their beliefs, what keeps me from lumping the Christians in with them?

    So to answer your question in the sense of personal witness, yes, it is evidence, but it must be tempered to ensure reliability. I would argue that all believers in god relying on the defense of personal experience have failed to do this.

    The overall answer to your question, as I stated in the beginning of this comment, is that there are lots of different kinds of evidences. I simply go with the most reliable. An evidence of god that would satisfy all that I've written above would be if every human being on the planet saw a message in the sky, in a language they understood, which read:

    Jesus really did die for your sins. Change your ways, . Within the next year, humans will discover how to travel at the speed of light. Here's a hint: .

    ~ God

    This would raise some serious questions about god's fairness (why didn't people in the past get the same message and were left with a proposition that would require a surrender of rationality to believe?), but it would be sufficient to convince me (and therefore, I think if someone weren't convinced then they would be being unreasonable).


  • Noel Anderson

    To all the atheists on this post:

    I agree to these terms entirely and am glad to discuss the Christian faith (to which I hold) on your terms.

    In the end, I know that no one can be argued into genuine faith. Faith is a gift from God and you are either given that gift or you are not. I am not hard on disbelievers at all.

    Karl Barth was one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, but you may not know about him because he was a Swiss pastor and theologian. He drafted the Barmen Declaration, which condemned the Nazis and nationalism per se from a faith-based point of view. He also said, quote:

    Belief cannot argue with unbelief, it can only preach to it.

    and more positively,

    The best theology would need no advocates: it would prove itself.

    i appreciate the work of your website, which demands that Christians come to the table with the same cool, clear logic two which you devote yourselves.

    I pray the discussions can remain civil from both sides.

    • Alerik Hoeh

       Have you ever heard the term “Fully General Counterargument?”

  • JT


    "Faith is a gift from God and you are either given that gift or you are not."

    Is there any belief so ludicrous, so flagrantly at odds with reality, that it could not be defended by recourse to that sentence?

    "Belief cannot argue with unbelief, it can only preach to it."

    Sure it can. There are lots of things that could change my mind. I'm just unwilling to have it changed for bad reasons.


  • JT



    “Faith is a gift from God and you are either given that gift or you are not.”

    Then what's the use, on your end, in wanting to discuss it?


  • Pingback: On eye witness testimony as evidence

  • Timberwoof

    Noel Anderson, you wrote that "Faith is a gift from God and you are either given that gift or you are not." What do you think about Calvinism? What happens to those people whom God did not give faith? Does He make them that way and then send them to hell?

    The Barmen Declaration is a fatwa in response to fatwas written by Christian Nazis. I'm not sure that the meanings you take from it make sense in the context of this discussion, which is all about logical discussions. "The best theology would need no advocates: it would prove itself" comes awful close to violating the rule against not needing evidence.

  • Mr. Kia

    That's a great flowchart you've got there! Very concise and to-the-point. Really nice work.

    You should add one or two pages with brief but hard-hitting rebuttals for the most frequent clichéd creationist (or just religious) arguments and you'll have one mean brochure, ready to be printed in bulk and spread in the places rational people frequent, like university campuses.

    It may give ammo to rational minded people who may not have the time to study serious books on such matters ("Greatest show on earth" and like), and may even sway some doubters.

    I mean seriously, I've watched quite a few debates between rationalists like Dawkins or Hitchens and creationists like D'souza. And practically in all of them creationists just use the same few stupid and inane (not to mention long debunked) arguments.

    I'm surprised no one in the rationalist camp had thought of just making a few colorful slides with rebuttals of the most popular arguments. You know, just for the add a splash of comedy, brighten up the dreary atmosphere.

    "But where are your transitional fossils? Where is the missing link?"

    *BZZZT* "Debunked argument rejected. Transitional fossil examples – here, here and here. Not necessary, have a ton of dating methods plus molecular genetic analysys data. You lose another hundred credibility points."

    One can dream, eh?

  • Whitey


    My view of all this is… You dont need facts or evidence to win an argument about religion… or politics or whatever. When engaging another in a manner described in the post above, it's always about Rhetorics.

    A good enough speaker can prove anything or talk a person to anything or convince anyone into anything. Its a skill, some are good in it, some more than others and almost anyone can learn to a certain degree at least. Some never do because they think truth or justice prevails… but they dont. Not in this world.

    SO, everytime you manage to "prove" something about God or anything at all to anyone, the only thing youre actually proving is that you have better rhetorical skills than your opponent.

    What this all comes down to is that realizing what I just said means that we can stop having arguments about these things, about most things, and instead accept that different people have different views on great many things, and no one can prove nothing, and to convince someone to discard his own beliefs and accepting yours through Rhetorical means is basically the same if you beat someone in to submission with your fists…

    But theres always a great chance I'm completely wrong about everything…

    • Alerik Hoeh

       You are mistaken.  For the majority of people who are uneducated, a persuasive enough speaker can persuade them of anything they’re emotionally prepared to accept because they probably won’t bother fact checking.  A sufficiently critical audience cannot be unduly swayed unless the speaker has sufficient power to create whole fields of false research complete with fake peer reviewed journals, etc. without also raising the ire of the scientific establishment in his or her field.  It may not be clear how critical is “sufficiently critical,” or how many people actually meet that definition.  In politics empty rhetoric works well because the bulk of the people are relatively uneducated and tribally committed (or aimless), and all the relevant primary media studiously ignore any positions that deviate from the accepted narrative.

  • Scott Rassbach

    Thank you for your reply regarding evidence. It is something to bear in mind.

  • Todd Smith


    You said, "SO, everytime you manage to “prove” something about God or anything at all to anyone, the only thing youre actually proving is that you have better rhetorical skills than your opponent."

    In matters of opinion, like much of politics, I agree with your statement. 'Winners' of formal debates are often determined by the skill of the debater.

    In matters of fact, however, I disagree. The germ theory of disease, or the fact that the earth is round, for example, did not convince people of its veracity because it had people with better rhetorical skills on its side. It convinced people by its own merit once the evidence was laid out. It is in this context, I believe, that this post was written.

    Does rhetoric play a role in factual arguments? Unfortunately, it sometimes creeps in, and muddies the water considerably. I see this post as a set of ground rules to keep rhetoric to a minimum and let the debate focus on facts that both parties can agree upon.

  • Aaron

    Excellent! But: "Whichever position is more reasonable and has more supporting evidence is the one that should be accepted as true…." Really? I'd say "as provisionally true" or "as the superior argument", realizing that one could be comparing a bad argument with a worse one.

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  • Kris

    My take on the faith topic above.

    Faith is not a "gift from god". Faith, as defined in my computer dictionary:



    1 complete trust or confidence in someone or something : this restores one's faith in politicians.

    2 strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

    Let's assume that as the original poster states he is christian, that his definition of faith uses definition number two. His faith, by definition, doesn't require proof, so in his mind he believes it is a "gift from god". I have to disagree, as faith, used in the first definition, is not a "gift from god". Faith is something every human can have and it doesn't have to be religious in connotation. I have faith (perhaps hope) that I will continue to have bowel movements for the rest of my life. Does this mean I should worship the large intestine? I certainly hope not.

    It seems to me "faith" is something that the religious will throw at you in a conversation as a statement something like "well since you don't believe this, you have no faith".

    My point is thus, faith is not a "gift from god", it's simply a belief. You can choose to believe that god will provide, or any number of other things. You can have your faith and tell yourself that "god will provide". While you're starving, waiting for god to provide, I'll be over here with my dinner in the oven, not sitting around waiting for mana to fall from the sky.

  • Karla

    That's a gorgeous flowchart! I love visuals. I'm posting this in all my online classes, and posting it to my blog too. Brilliant!

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  • drew3000

    Excellent criteria for engagement. I hope you don’t mind if I crib from you (with attribution) and enforce these standards on my own blog’s (very) occasional commenter.

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  • Gary Moss

    RE: “Faith is a gift from God and you are either given that gift or you are not.” I think Mark Twain's definition of faith is more accurate – believing in something you know ain't so.

  • David

    Hello everyone. I'm a seminary student in Chicago. Thought I'd get that out there right away. Also, I was directed here by Tom Tango's baseball blog, so that's probably weird, too.

    First of all, love the flowchart. Excellent way to discuss pretty much anything, but religion in particular. Believe it or not, intra-religious dialogue, inter-religious dialogue, and dialogue with non-religious people all suffer because people are unwilling to accept those premises. So it's definitely a problem.

    I would like, however, to respond to a couple of things I think are important. To Kris (@38), for example. Kris claims that Noel (@28) has an incorrect definition of "faith." I don't know how many of you around here are familiar with Wittgenstein, but this is basically the problem he notices with his "language game" theory. Basically, any inter-disciplinary dialogue is going to have a problem that people in different disciplines use words differently. And the words themselves actually have different meanings in different contexts. In other words, the "faith that [one] will continue to have bowel movements" is an absurd thing to bring up, because that kind of "faith" is not even the same word that Noel was using in #28. They share phonemic and characteristic (meaning, the possessing of letters) nature, but they are not the same word. Agree to discuss with someone also means being willing to see that that person may define words differently than you do. Simply saying that their definition of a word is wrong is not going to help anything. It's getting off-topic from the argument at hand. If we just argue about what "faith" means, the actual dialogue between religious and non-religious people goes nowhere, with the non-religious feeling they've won, and the religious feeling sorry for the unbeliever. Just something to consider.

    • Raharu

      I most commonly run into three different definitions of the word, “faith.” One is faith based on verifiable evidence. The faith you have in your bowel movement would fall under this one. Some people might not even call this faith, because peaking down at the toilet proves your bowel movement existed. The other common definition I have run into is faith in the absence of evidence. This might sound like, “God is watching over me.” Did the circumstances line up just right or was it divine intervention? And the third definition I run into too often is faith contrary to the evidence. People who believe the earth is only 6000 years old have this kind of faith.

  • Jay


    Thank you! I was reading the posts and thought that the "language factor" was left out. Sane, rational people can sometimes be TOO literal. If you talk to anyone who studies language you'll realize that language itself is not really "literal" (meaning that words mean different things to different people).

    This, of course, leads to the question, "how do we ever hope to communicate with each other!?!"

    It is my position that "rational" people who strive to find the truth are always searching for creative ways of understanding a problem/question. Wasn't it Einstein who said that his creativity was much more important than his intellect? Sometimes that creative way of understanding involves trying to understand the "essence" of what someone is trying to say, keeping in mind that their words might not mean the same to you as it does to them.

    I've always believed it's important to understand

  • Jay

    (sorry, hit the wrong button and got cut off!)

    I've always believed it is important to try to understand those who disagree with you instead (as is often our first impulse) to discount their opinions wholesale.

    btw.. I consider myself an atheist who values (in moderation) belief, love, compassion, and humor… and other things that I have a hard time finding rational reasons for embracing.


    • Alerik Hoeh

       You haven’t been looking hard enough.  There is a mountain of biological reasons for valuing the things we value, even if there is no ultimate universal “ought.”  I suggest reading just about anything by Daniel Dennett, “Freedom Evolves,” in particular, for an outline of why our minds are shaped the way they are.

  • Chelsey

    I would love to see this flow-chart as a poster. I'd totally buy that. =D

  • Joost

    There are good reasons for believing, whether they are reasonable in according to a certain scientific paradigm is another story. Seems pretty boring to me, only talking about religion in a competetive way, being right or wrong. I don't think that one MUST be willing to change, though one must be able to understand why one believes what one believes, expect en respect that, specially when that person holds value to their belief. And ofcourse, that goes the other way around aswell…

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  • fonsi

    I like proposal some improvements about graphical picture. I think that I himself could do it. See you and very thank you!!

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  • Ran Gluschnaider

    Very good indeed. If it only was so simple to really have a discussion like that.
    This remark is for the author: I’d like to ask your permission to translate it to Hebrew and post this on an Israeli blog and maybe also a Facebook group. I will of course add a link to this page as the source of the chart. If this is not the author of the chart, could you be so kind and point me to the original author, thank you very much! Keep up the good work and a happy new year to everyone :)
    You can contact me via FaceBook, thanks again, Ran.

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  • Delmar

    Your “Rational Debating” flowchart fails (and becomes irrational) with your very first Q&A. Where did you come up with your definition of the word “discussion” (ie that “discussions are a dialog [sic] between people in which the participants are willing to alter their position if it makes sense to do so”)?

    Think about it. A “discussion” can most definitely occur in which one or more parties could not initially “envision anything that [would] change [their] mind on [a given] topic.” In fact, those types of discussions occur all around us every day. And in some cases, none of the participants do change their mind but in others, one or more of the participants is surprised that their view has indeed changed as a result of the content of the discussion. (Their surprise is present of course because, at the outset, they could not “envision anything” that could change their mind.)

    Unlike the great majority of similar posts/diagrams on this or related topics (in which the goal is to disparage or be flippant), your’s seems to be a genuine attempt at logical or rational thinking. If that is correct, you might do well to objectively reevaluate each of the statements and conclusions you have included.

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