Why Atheists Should Stop Debating With Religious People

No More Debating With Religious Citizens

Life in a reality-based world cannot accommodate conversations about nonsensical notions

As has every successful movement before it, the atheist movement must now move past the debate stage because there are no new arguments to make and no new evidence to present. 

We have raised awareness, we have made our arguments, we have pointed out the evidentiary and logical flaws in religious claims, we have tried to educate, and we have even gotten angry. 

Further debate only distracts us, helps to normalize ridiculous claims and stokes unfounded doubts about objective reality itself. 

In order to break the cycle, we atheists must simply refuse to engage in nonsensical diversions, even with each other. We must reject assertions of religious belief, no matter how heartfelt, with no more compunction than we would claims of perpetual motion, psychic readings, or leprechauns. 

We must quit disputing creationists and no longer treat faith-healing as a mere cultural difference. Let’s forget about conducting experiments to disprove the power of prayer, and stop deliberating over the Bible’s inconsistencies as if they matter. 

Instead, we must quietly assert, through our refusal to engage with these ideas, that the reality-based world has moved on. This stance is already standard for any number of groups who hold bizarre beliefs. We’re not conflicted when we denounce statements of Holocaust denial. 

We no longer treat sincere beliefs about white supremacy as legitimate. We refuse to be open-minded about a flat Earth. We no longer debate the pros and cons of slavery or racism or women’s rights. 

Of course, we cannot eliminate delusional beliefs altogether, but we are able to marginalize them so that their influence is kept to a minimum. 

Many people believe in ghosts, psychics, and Bigfoot, but those groups do not attempt and are not powerful enough, to substantially influence public policy. 

There’s no Bigfoot wing of a political party fighting incessantly to include a Bigfoot curriculum in schools, or to build Bigfoot memorials on public property, or to push through legislation based on the teachings of Bigfoot, or for the government to establish a Department of Bigfoot Protection. 

This is not to say that secular society can or should relegate religious citizens to voiceless, second-class status. On the contrary, we must engage in social-justice debates with everyone, even though the gap between secular and religious worldviews is deep. 

At times, it seems like a bottomless chasm, but it’s not. Our common goals and needs as humans bring our two sides close enough together to form strong bridges on a wide range of issues. 

But we need those bridges to be built on facts, reason, and universal values. If religious citizens wish to create social policy in keeping with their faith, we must insist that they do so by sticking to objectivity and sound logic. 

While laudable religious beliefs do exist, they can undermine our own capacity for rational thought, which is why it’s easy to get caught up in silly debates, even with other atheists. 

We are activists mainly because we see powerful religious interests pushing America—perhaps unwittingly and with sincerely good intentions—toward delusional thinking and sectarian behaviors. 

Each, at any level, is anathema to our American ideals, including the free exercise of religion. So, in order to move forward, we must participate in any reasonable, fact-based conversation while refusing to engage in arguments over fiction that have nothing to do with the real world. A pluralistic society cannot function in any other way unless it becomes a theocracy.


Tyson Gill Atheist Author

By Tyson Gill 

A former science teacher, researcher, and software developer. He has authored several books, including Belief in Science and the Science of Belief. He writes about atheism, science, and social justice at Figmentums.com.

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