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Winning an Unwinnable Debate
Winning an Unwinnable Debate
The Win in the Unwinnable Debate
by Dave Silverman
s an Atheist, and as a State Director, I find myself debating constantly. Whether it's in person, on the radio, or via Email, what starts out as questions often leads to a heated discussion of the finer points of religion and Atheism. It gets a little repetitious sometimes, but I enjoy it, simply because every debate reaffirms my confidence in myself. Every debate, no matter how heated, convinces me even more that nobody can truly make logical sense out of religion.
Notice I didn't say anything about \winning\ the debates. I omit this because most people only count a \win\ when the opponent admits error. While it does happen from time to time with me, it is very rare.
|Contrary to most Atheists, who will admit when logic proves us wrong, the believer will inevitably end the argument in some way (skilled theist debaters will argue in a circle) so as no to have to admit that their belief is logically incorrect.|
This does not mean I am not a good debater, and it certainly does not mean that our point is not much stronger than our common opponent's. It simply means that when backed into a logical corner, most believers will throw up their hands and say something profoundly illogical like \You can't prove God doesn't exist\ or \I don't question the Bible.\ Contrary to most Atheists, who will admit when logic proves us wrong, the believer will inevitably end the argument in some way (skilled theist debaters will argue in a circle) so as no to have to admit that their belief is logically incorrect.
It can be infuriating. In can also be taken in offense, as the Atheist realizes that his opponent never intended to admit it when proven wrong, as the Atheist would have (although it rarely happens). This can lead to a very frustrating experience for the Atheist, and may result in reluctance to debate.
What we must realize is that the purpose of the debate is NOT to make our opponent admit he is wrong. As I said before, this rarely happens. I suggest you take it for granted that you will NOT win the debate in the classical sense of the word, because your Bible-thumping opponent is most likely a lost cause. In the art of the debate on religion, the \win\ is the debate itself, not the outcome.
For those debates between two people, where nobody else is listening, the debate will hone your abilities and increase your confidence. You know you've won when your opponent talks in circles or gets defensive.
But the really important stuff is the public debate, where other people are listening to two people clash. Again, the key here is not to try to make your opponent convert. The objective here is the listeners.
Bystanders, or attendees, are grouped into two segments: those who believe and those who don't. Nonbelievers are hopeful that you will argue skillfully, and reinforce their non-religious stance. Believers are hopeful that you will convert, or at very least lose your temper and make a fool of yourself. These are the important folks. Nonbelievers are the future members and activists, and believers are potential converts and supporters of Atheist rights.
In a public forum, your opponent's refusal to \give up\ is not nearly as relevant as your calm and logical argument, as opposed to the futile rantings of a theist desperate to make himself sound logical. Your objective in a public debate is to prove, not to your opponent, but to the listeners, that religion is illogical, counterproductive, and is not a needed component of life. In this way, your opponent is to be viewed as no more than a tool to demonstrate the flaws of his own arguments and the repercussions of blind faith.
One final note: Just as you cannot expect to convert your opponent on the spot, so as your opponent should not expect to convert you (you can use this to frustrate a relatively unskilled opponent). Both sides of a debate can win by presenting a cool and logical argument, so in this respect you have the advantage, since religion is not logical.
However, the believer has one extra way to win: when there's no debate at all.