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How to Debate an Atheist

Men arguing on park bench

Atheism has become the dominant thought amongst intellectuals in the past century and has been around longer than most people think. For over 2000 years, it was based on philosophical arguments that can roughly be summed up as the atheist saying, “I don’t know how ‘X’ came to be, but you can’t prove it came from God.” This mindset has been highly effective because it places the burden of proof on the theist to prove the positive of God’s existence, which, superficially, is impossible to do –  because no evidence exists that provides “proof” that can be independently verified and repeated at a five-sigma (5σ) confidence level and above that God is real.

During the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century, atheists were no longer content to use philosophical arguments and started using positive claims that basically said, “‘X’ proves God does not exist.”

Most recently, the highly influential New Atheism spearheaded by Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, and Hitchens has modified the positive arguments, but reinforced and justified a dangerous trend that started in the late 20th century that roughly states, “Because you do not accept that 'X' proves God does not exist, you are not credible and must not be allowed to be in a position of influence over others.”

The New Atheism mindset has had an enormous effect among atheists in positions of power in academia: For the “thought crime” of believing God exists, theist scientists have actually been blocked from jobs and tenure, they have been prevented from getting their works funded or published, and many have actually been terminated from their jobs. One now sees university campuses where openly theist professors are becoming rarer by the year, especially among those who do not have tenure—even in supposedly religious institutions. To New Atheism, science and scientific credibility are solely the domain of atheism and no one else.

Ground Rules

Before a theist and atheist engage in debate or dialogue, both parties need to agree on the basics. What constitutes pass/fail for a given item as to whether it supports the notion of God’s existence or not? Should the standards of evidence of three-sigma (3σ) to five-sigma (5σ) that all branches of science use be good enough or should the theist be held to a harsher standard. If so, why, when belief doesn’t affect our physical world? How will evidence be valued and weighted? How will individual samples be added together? (For example, are three 2σ pieces of evidence to be calculated as “2σ × 2σ × 2σ = 6σ” or another value?)

What will it take for the atheist to accept the theist’s positive argument? What will it take for the theist to accept the atheist’s positive argument? Which subjects and arguments are valid and which are invalid?