I feel for us free-thinkers, I really do. We usually have the best arguments, and most of us are willing to admit that we’re wrong when we don’t. Then why is it that when arguing with believers, even when they’re faced with more than enough reason and evidence that they should at least start to question their beliefs, they don’t budge at all. Not only have we not convinced them of anything, they may in fact hold onto their beliefs with more certainty than before. It’s frustrating to engage in a debate, particularly online, for pages and pages, only to be met at the end of the conversation with the equivalent of “You have good arguments, but I still don’t believe you”. A typical and greatly simplified conversation may go something like this:
God-Believer (GB): I believe in God.
Free-Thinker (FT): I don’t see any evidence for God.
GB: You’re going to Hell!
FT: How do you know that?
GB: It says so in the Bible.
FT: Well, how do you know it’s true?
GB: It’s inspired by God.
FT: Well, how do you know that? Lots of other books claim to be inspired by God, they can’t all be true.
GB: Well, I know it in my heart to be true!
FT: People of other beliefs say the same thing, why should I listen to your claims of truth over anyone else’s?
GB: You can’t disprove them.
FT: I can’t disprove leprechauns either.
GB: Well, you just have to have faith
Sigh, another debate with no real progress being made. I’m guilty of the same thing , so instead of repeating the same things over and over and expecting different results, we have to change the method of conversation. Each tangent of the conversation can take massive amounts of time and effort to dissect and explain why each of the premises taken by GB are faulty. For what? Why do we go through this mental exercise over and over when we could be doing something better with our time? We could be playing video games, or vacuuming.
There’s a very strong question – some would say “magical”, but not us of course – that we can ask at the very beginning of a conversation or debate. If they answer the question with a “No”, then they won’t be able to use their main arguing points anymore, because they will have agreed in advance that their points aren’t valid. If they answer this question with a “Yes”, then we can give a quick, efficient, two minute maximum explanation of why they can’t answer the question with a yes while still being a true statement. If they disagree with our explanation, then we’ll know that they aren’t worth our time or effort to bother debating them. Ready?
“Will you be putting forth, as a statement of truth, that faith is greater than reason?”
If they say no, great! Now we can get into a conversation and get some work done. We can have a civil debate, and anytime our opponent mentions faith, remind them that they’ve already agreed that reason is greater than faith. If they answer that faith *is* greater than reason, we can explain to them how this must be false, with 100% conviction.
“Faith > Reason” is supposed to be a statement of truth, but we know that it can’t be. Imagine a friend coming up to you and saying out loud “I have no voice”. You ask what they mean by this, and they tell you about how their vocal cords aren’t working, and that they don’t have a voice because of that. No matter what your friend says, they’re clearly wrong, because you can’t talk without using vocal cords.
In the same way, if it’s impossible to defend the position “Faith > Reason” without using some sort of reasoning, the proposition must be false. The only answer someone can defend this proposition with is “just believe me”. That’s faith. Ask them how they know faith is better than reason, and if they don’t answer with “Faith”, you win! They don’t even believe themselves when they defend faith with reason. Of course, if they do answer with “faith”, then we’ll have saved ourselves a chunk of time to use more productively. Kudos to them for being consistent, at least.
This is the only debate that we should be having. A quick debate about the validity of faith, and if they can’t accept this very simple premise, then it’s not a debate worth getting into. It’s not even a debate, really, it’s just an exercise in fiction. This is also good because it allows us to sidestep all of the “Okay, even if we assume that there is a God…” debates. We don’t have to do it. It’s like arguing with the friend who says that their vocal cords aren’t working. Questions like “Well, how am I hearing you”, “Why is your mouth moving?”, “If it’s not your voice, than what voice am I hearing” will all have answers, which will make little no sense. It doesn’t matter how consistent their story is, it’s flawed at the beginning, so everything that follows must also be false.
Realize that pointing this out will probably make the people we’re debating quite angry. Imagine that you’re being told that you can’t use reason, logic or evidence (all of which are greater than faith) to back up your arguments, it’s the same frustration we generally feel when our logic and reason is dismissed, taking a backdoor to faith. But let’s stop humouring our opponents. It’s an argument that we will never win. We’re using logic and reason, and they’re just making things up. Don’t play that game. Let’s free up our minds for more useful conversations.