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Can theists be convinced by reason? - Comments

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 1 by Jos Gibbons

Most American atheists are former theists whom arguments convinced. I don't know whether such a majority effect occurs in other nations such as my own, but it needn't for my point. Literally millions of theists have been convinced of atheism, and millions more to modify their own theism (e.g. by abandoning creationism or at least young earth creationism), in the US alone. This implies a fairly affirmative answer to the question. This website's "Converts' Corner" documents examples in people's own words.

Fri, 09 Dec 2011 20:40:11 UTC | #897257

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 2 by Peter Grant

Can theists be convinced by reason?

I wouldn't bet on it, but hey, anything is worth a try :D I live in South Africa where there is also a high level of religiosity and general mysticism, so I feel you pain. I personally think that emotion combined with reason is more effective. Religion is evil because it justifies a great deal of suffering, this is relatively easy to demonstrate to people.

Fri, 09 Dec 2011 20:45:54 UTC | #897263

Mr DArcy's Avatar Comment 3 by Mr DArcy

"Can theists be convinced by reason?"

Yes of course they can! Otherwise the whole world would be full of religious bigots of one kind or another. Fortunately, advances in science and knowledge using reasoning, have destroyed many of the (at least Christian), claims of "truth". It has indeed taken time in Europe, and it will indeed take hopefuly less time in places like Brazil, for the believers to face reality. In Brazil apart from the indiginous religions with their many spirits, there has been imposed the horrific edifice of the RCC, with leering old Holy Joe at its head.

So Nicolas, it will take time, but a definite "yes" from me in mainly godless England.

Reality will overtake religion.

Fri, 09 Dec 2011 20:48:25 UTC | #897267

Quine's Avatar Comment 4 by Quine

I'd go with the comment Jos Gibbons made above and do some research into what people who did reason their way out of theism say got them started or made a difference. There are plenty of videos on YouTube where people tell their story. As for relating to the people around you, I also interact with friends and neighbors, who are theists, and have been working on getting a balance. I tell them I am "not a person of faith" because for them it is a matter of faith, not reason. However, my experience is that when I do that, they start trying to use reason to justify their faith, which always collapses back upon them. Some will ignore that, but it will start more questions in the minds of others.

Fri, 09 Dec 2011 21:26:09 UTC | #897277

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 5 by Neodarwinian

Not to put too fine a point on it; no!

Perhaps when they stop being theists and are in the in between stage of giving up "magic man " and all that entails. Strange that, as in many, if not all, other walks of life theists are quite reasonable.

Fri, 09 Dec 2011 22:49:12 UTC | #897306

Jumped Up Chimpanzee's Avatar Comment 6 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee

It might help people to suggest solutions to your problem if you gave some specific examples of the arguments you have.

However, if you can't get through to your opponents initially by straightforward atheist arguments, maybe you could use alternative religious arguments to help soften them up and make them think about their own beliefs. If they say Christianity demands one thing, tell them that Islam demands something else and how are you supposed to know which to believe. It's an indirect tactic that might make them realise their beliefs are not so straightforward as they thought.

Fri, 09 Dec 2011 22:57:43 UTC | #897311

GrunnenEnSeyst's Avatar Comment 7 by GrunnenEnSeyst

Perhaps you could try to figure out what is tying them to their own beliefs. These people are really close to you, some of them, so you might have a chance to actually find out. If you know this, you might be able to take away those bonds, and then things might change. Very likely, those things will at least have an important emotional component. You could perhaps try to make them feel the way you feel about certain issues. For example, if they think one can't be good without god, try to make them realise how morality works within your intellectual and emotional framework. Well, that would be my take, I think. And I have not had success talking people out of religion myself...

Fri, 09 Dec 2011 23:02:13 UTC | #897314

QuestioningKat's Avatar Comment 8 by QuestioningKat

In this environment, I fight every day with my family, my friends, my girlfriend, her colleagues and her co-religionists. I really try to make them use their reason and consider my atheist arguments objectively. Even though the works of Richard Dawkins and others has helped me a lot in clarifying and organizing my arguments, I must admit to having had very poor results in this attempt. Of course, I don't pretend to be as clear and convincing as he is!

Of course! They think you're an idiot for picking fights. "I really try to MAKE them use their reason..." You sound unreasonable. You have a choice - Love them for who they are - or- try to force them to change their views. Perhaps if you model the "loving them for who they are", they will get the message and do the same towards you.

Sat, 10 Dec 2011 00:34:28 UTC | #897336

mysticjbyrd's Avatar Comment 9 by mysticjbyrd

No, let them live with their ignorance. If by chance they do see the non-spiritual light, then it was more likely due to something the church did/said, not an atheist. Simply forget about the lost causes, and focus on educating the children.

Sat, 10 Dec 2011 00:34:31 UTC | #897337

Phen's Avatar Comment 10 by Phen

In my experience, there is no point in picking fights with these people. My family and several friends are very religious, and now I completely avoid any conversation related to religion or mysticism. When I do become engaged in these discussions I stand my ground and calmly make rational points. This results in lots of screaming and banging of doors. They've said they'd prefer me to be an idiot and believe than be an atheist. So what can we do? Its as pointless as a freezer in the arctic.

Sat, 10 Dec 2011 04:52:48 UTC | #897389

Starcrash's Avatar Comment 11 by Starcrash

Comment 10 by Phen :

In my experience, there is no point in picking fights with these people.

Agreed. I absolutely love debates, but nobody ever really wins these things. I like to plant the seed of doubt, because it can lead to changes in thinking, but I'll never change someone's thinking outright by cornering them with an argument that they can't rebut... the human mind just has too many good defense mechanisms.

So does reason ever convince a person? Not in debate, at least in my experience. But I was won over by reason (a Christian before, and now an atheist), and others can be too... they just have to discover it themselves.

It's a lot like therapy, I think. Therapists can listen to a person for a while and discover exactly what that person's problem is, but they use an approach that makes the person ask himself or herself the right questions. If a person comes to a conclusion himself or herself, that idea will take hold and meet less resistance. If it comes from the therapist, it can and probably will be met by the same defense mechanisms that stifle debate.

Sat, 10 Dec 2011 05:36:37 UTC | #897401

craggyted's Avatar Comment 12 by craggyted

Unfortunately I have to agree with the above comments. It is unlikely that you will convince people that their faith is meaningless. I am not particulalrly well educated and was bought up in a christian household, attended church and read the bible throughout my childhood. It was during my childhood I began to question this god, who I found violent, jealous and vindictive. I wanted to believe in god but not the one I read about who killed thousands merely for being from a different tribe. I just could not understand the contradiction between "Though shall not kill" from a devine entity who had wiped almost the entire population of the earth by drowning them, perhaps he is big on irony?

I have since been exposed to science and it makes sense. Well, if I am honest it sort of makes sense. I have a limited grasp of basic theories of evolution. To be frank, like many of us, I am lazy and therefore I am a lazy atheist. When I encounter devout worshipers who preach the bible as literal I can give token arguments. However my grasp on evolution is not as deep as their understanding of the bible. They are never going to convince me that they are right, but I will never convince them that science is the way forward.

It is all to easy to accept religion as an absolute if you have been exposed early enough and recieve poor education which does not question our beliefs. I have raised my children to question all that is put to them. I can see that science invites a questioning mind. Experiments need to be questioned to be validated. Religion is an absolute. It relies upon a book and blind faith. It is easy to preach to the undeucated, or the lazysuch as myself or those in third world or developing countries where opportunity is poor and death too close. Religion preys upon the vulnerable.

Sat, 10 Dec 2011 06:45:54 UTC | #897413

Mark Ribbands's Avatar Comment 13 by Mark Ribbands

… atheist arguments rely on reason and therefore can only be understood by reasonable persons …

Love it! Is that from you Nicolas, or a quotation?

I think Starcrash [comment 11] above has hit the nail on the head. He’s absolutely right that one can never immediately ‘win’ such arguments in debate.

But what you can do is to implant ideas. Ideas which may fester, replicate and grow in your victim’s mind. But of course that mind must contain sufficiently fertile ground – using the technique with idiots is doomed to failure: some arguments just can’t be won, in which case it is better to direct one’s efforts elsewhere, since life is an ephemeral thing.

Books help a lot, if the target can be persuaded to read them. On this site there’s no need to spell out which book one should start with. Christmas is coming, and it’s the time for giving and all that!

I am afraid I have to use some other tool than logic and reason to make them abandon blind faith. But which tool?

I’ve always found that, in life, firearms can be quite effective :)

Sat, 10 Dec 2011 07:12:13 UTC | #897421

MilitantApatheist's Avatar Comment 14 by MilitantApatheist

It is impossible to argue with a truly religious person. They build an impenetrable force field around their faith and defeat you with pure stamina. How can you argue with someone who doesn't use logic in a debate? It is like playing chess against someone who won't follow the rules of chess.

Sat, 10 Dec 2011 09:56:19 UTC | #897464

Utah's Avatar Comment 15 by Utah

Billy's useless theories. So my brother-in-law says.

People are either Domain or Non-Domain trusting. Therefore your girl friend can not be convienced in a non-domain method, such as logic or reason in any short time span. I was successful by predicting the outcome of future events over a 10 year period, where my wife would say, "how did you know that would come true". My wife finally grew to trust my logic and converted to believe like me but she still hates it because she is a relational person and it put her at odds with her parents.

PS: I think a lot of Christian's like myself that convert to non-believers later in life are a bit autistic, and therefore more Non-Domain trusting. We are more object oriented and actually more primitive in our thinking. We should thank the intelligence of the relational domain trusting individuals. We would not exist in my opinion without there communication and relational skills that enhanced their ability to work together to survive. The religious belief in god is an unintended side affect of the evolutionary process.

I guess you could say it is is less about who is right or wrong and more about the survival of our cells.

Good luck,

BU.

Sat, 10 Dec 2011 10:00:35 UTC | #897465

paulmcuk's Avatar Comment 16 by paulmcuk

It depends what aspect of thier faith you're arguing about. It's difficult, if not impossible, to convince a deeply religious person that their god doesn't exist using logical reasoning. This is partly because so many questions about the universe are as yet unanswered by science that it's easy for theists to argue that there "must" be a creator. Similar difficulties apply to all the "meaning of life" type questions since saying "there is no meaning to life" is a tough sell.

You're on firmer ground with specific religious stories and dogma. There's a wealth of evidence and reasoning to use in a Evolution v Creationism argument for example. Or on stories like Noah's Ark. In fact, attacking the bible, rather than the god, is generally much more fruitful since it contradicts itself so often. For example, if a christian says homosexuality is wrong because the bible says so, it's usually a simple task to point out things that the bible also says are wrong but which are accepted by christians (pork, shellfish, adultery, working on the sabbath). Indeed, the whole area of biblical/christian "morality" is solid ground for atheists who can cite the bible passages that support slavery, genocide and rape. Citing examples of how the bible stories resemble earlier, non christian legends is also a good way to chip away at its credibility.

Attacking the particular church can be good too. Examples of where church leaders have breached their own rules (or the law) and tried to hide it/get away with it (often with the support of fellow church leaders) are always useful to counter any argument about christians being in some way morally superior.

So, my three-step deconversion plan (which I just came up with) would be:

  1. Attack the church. Breaking the individual's faith in their church and its doctrine separates them from their support structure.

  2. Attack the bible. Most christian's faith is built around the bible but most haven't even read it. Educate yourself on it and expose its glaring flaws and contraditions.

  3. Go for god. Once a christian no longer believes in the bible they should be more open to considering whether they really need god at all.

Sat, 10 Dec 2011 10:00:43 UTC | #897466

chris 116's Avatar Comment 17 by chris 116

Long after losing the Anglican faith of my childhood, I still believed in a creator. "Because nature is all so beautiful" is a remark I remember making to a bemused zoologist drinking buddy. He neither attacked nor laughed at my naivete, instead he lent me his copy of The Selfish Gene. That's not an easy book for somebody with attention problems who left school at 16 and had stopped regularly attending well before that. But, with his encouragement, I persevered. And when I finally got it, my faith had gone and my love of nature had grown.

I don't mean to suggest that it's going to be as simple as that in your case. Firstly, my questioning mind had already led me to dump my childhood faith. And my love of nature, combined with my lack of a formal education, meant that I was hungry for answers. And Sir David had already prepared the ground for growth.

I have three suggestions. Firstly, do not attack or sneer in the superior fashion of many on this forum, as this will only entrench their position. Instead, try to plant seeds. Secondly, it's not worth losing a good friend over. Since my conversion I've managed to alienate some religious friends, while not making one single convert. You don't have to back down but know when to back off. On this point, I'm suggesting that you do as I say and not as I do. And lastly, never say never.

Chris

Sat, 10 Dec 2011 10:20:31 UTC | #897470

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 18 by AtheistEgbert

"Can theists be convinced by reason?"

Short answer--no they can't.

Not everything in life is based on reason and science. For example, I'm pretty sure you didn't end up with a girlfriend based on reason and science, at least I hope not.

It is true that psychoanalysis and psychology in general are not the same kind of sciences as physics, chemistry or biology, because of the impossibility of objectively verifying the mind. However, that didn't stop geniuses such as Freud in giving us a greater understanding of the human mind.

Reason is important for truth, but that means we must each reason for ourselves, not be simply persuaded by others about what is true. It's up to everyone to think for themselves and see their own lies and foolishness.

Sat, 10 Dec 2011 12:13:03 UTC | #897497

JoxerTheMighty's Avatar Comment 19 by JoxerTheMighty

I'm not quite sure why you feel the need to "convert" or "de-convert" them or whatever. What are you, some kind of crusader of the truth and enlightment that saves others for a living? You don't even know whether you are right yourself. Let them be, and ask from them the same(if, of course, they are jerks to you, be jerk to them too, or ditch them). You know nothing. We know nothing, buddy. You made your choice, they made theirs. The world can exist with different opinions without imploding. You immediately place yourself "above" them, as if, by default, you are right and they are wrong, and they ought to see the light. Sorry, it isn't so. Lower your ego a bit, hm? We don't know who's right. You believe you are right, so do they. You are not special. Live with it, or, alternatively, socialize only with atheists. shrugs

Sat, 10 Dec 2011 13:24:25 UTC | #897510

JoxerTheMighty's Avatar Comment 20 by JoxerTheMighty

Hm, maybe my above post came a bit on the aggressive side. My point is, it's not necessary to convince your close ones to follow your idea system. You can have a close relatioship with them and just agree to disagree. You don't have to fight over these matters, nor have the arrogant idea that you have the monopoly on reason and it is your duty to 'correct' those that think otherwise.

Sat, 10 Dec 2011 15:00:48 UTC | #897522

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 21 by Peter Grant

Comment 19 by JoxerTheMighty

We don't know who's right.

Of course he's right. They aren't even wrong!

Sat, 10 Dec 2011 15:10:51 UTC | #897524

JoxerTheMighty's Avatar Comment 22 by JoxerTheMighty

Comment 21 by Peter Grant :

Comment 19 by JoxerTheMighty

We don't know who's right.

Of course he's right. They aren't even wrong!

Yeah. Or maybe...you're wrong.

Sat, 10 Dec 2011 15:26:22 UTC | #897528

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 23 by Peter Grant

Comment 22 by JoxerTheMighty

Yeah. Or maybe...you're wrong.

About what exactly?

Sat, 10 Dec 2011 15:29:49 UTC | #897529

JoxerTheMighty's Avatar Comment 24 by JoxerTheMighty

Comment 23 by Peter Grant :

Comment 22 by JoxerTheMighty

Yeah. Or maybe...you're wrong.

About what exactly?

I don't know, about what exactly are they "not even wrong"?

I guess we're talking about the existence of God, aren't we?

His family and friends could be right and he could be wrong about that.

No need to play all high and mighty and just assume that everyone is a delusional idiot except him.

Or, as I said, he could ditch them all and associate only with people who are 'right', if he can't stand them thinking differently than him.

Sat, 10 Dec 2011 15:30:52 UTC | #897530

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 25 by Peter Grant

Comment 24 by JoxerTheMighty

I don't know, about what exactly are they "not even wrong"?

I guess we're talking about the existence of God, aren't we?

I make no claims about the existence of any "gods", that's something theists do.

Sat, 10 Dec 2011 15:36:10 UTC | #897532

Steven Mading's Avatar Comment 26 by Steven Mading

It depends on the theist in question.

Fundamentalists believe: (A) the claims their religions make were intended literally, and (B) that they are truthful.

More liberal religious people believe: (A) the claims their religions make were intended metaphorically, and (B) that they are truthful.

Trying to argue with logic, believe it or not, actually works better against fundamentalists because you don't have the additional problem of trying to convince them that how well their religious claims match up with reality is even relevant in the first place. They already believe it's relevant, and already are thinking, "I believe this because it's accurate" rather than "I believe this because [insert post-modernist wishy-washy bullshit here]."

Basically, with a fundamentalist, you can concentrate on logically arguing about (B) without their stance on (A) getting in the way of even being allowed to touch the subject of whether it's logical.

Sat, 10 Dec 2011 15:49:49 UTC | #897536

Steven Mading's Avatar Comment 27 by Steven Mading

Comment 20 by JoxerTheMighty :

Hm, maybe my above post came a bit on the aggressive side. My point is, it's not necessary to convince your close ones to follow your idea system. You can have a close relatioship with them and just agree to disagree. You don't have to fight over these matters, nor have the arrogant idea that you have the monopoly on reason and it is your duty to 'correct' those that think otherwise.

Spoken like someone who never had to live with the consequences of what happens when religion gets its hands on the reigns of government.

Sat, 10 Dec 2011 15:54:22 UTC | #897537

digofthedump's Avatar Comment 28 by digofthedump

Can theists be convinced by reason?

If you had said "Can believers or religious people be convinced by reason?" I would answer "No by definition" since these people are moved through the emotional faculties.

But 'theist' is a term which describes a particular point of view. I presume you're asking therefore if a theist can be made to see reason and renounce his/her view (this would assume that the theistic point of view is ultimately unsupportable and wrong) as opposed to asking whether someone could actually arrive at a theistic position through a process of reason (this is assuming that the theistic view is inherently reasonable perhaps more so than atheism).

Either way perhaps your treatment of the theists in your life is reflected back in their treatment of you. If you afforded them some measure of intelligence and be open minded to their way of seeing things then they might be willing to do the same for you.

Sat, 10 Dec 2011 16:36:47 UTC | #897543

Sketchy's Avatar Comment 29 by Sketchy

Comment 20 by Joxerthemighty

You can have a close relationship with them and just agree to disagree.

I always wondered how this work. Socializing is one thing, but how deep a connection can you have with someone who’s so irrational they’re able to believe in all-powerful immaterial super-beings, and so immoral they can imagine being happy in heaven while the rest of us are being tortured (or extinguished or whatever) by the very same god they’re supposed to worship? I just don’t get it. You need some common basic values, and rationality and fairness are as basic as it gets. The relationship must be lacking in some important way.

My impression is when people do escape the delusion they find it very eye-opening and liberating, and would never want to go back. Why wouldn’t he want to help his friends and himself while he’s at it? Delusions are always harmful and Nicolas’ distress is just one more example of this.

Sat, 10 Dec 2011 16:52:04 UTC | #897546

Starcrash's Avatar Comment 30 by Starcrash

Comment 29 by Sketchy :

I always wondered how this work. Socializing is one thing, but how deep a connection can you have with someone who’s so irrational they’re able to believe in all-powerful immaterial super-beings, and so immoral they can imagine being happy in heaven while the rest of us are being tortured (or extinguished or whatever) by the very same god they’re supposed to worship? I just don’t get it.

I guess the best analogy I can think of is having a friend who is extremely obese. If you're thin, you'd have a very hard time putting yourself in that friend's shoes, and there are certain things you just couldn't share (it's not likely you'll play sports together). But you don't have to force that person into liposuction or a crash diet just to relate. You share the things you can, and try to remain sensitive of the topic (your nickname for this person will not be "fatty" if you want to remain friends).

I have Christian parents, and we get along well. They know we have differing views on almost everything, and even discussing politics can be dicey. But if we sense that we're treading on thin ice, we just don't do it. It doesn't make for a good relationship to argue often or dwell on sensitive issues.

Sat, 10 Dec 2011 17:08:17 UTC | #897551