I was recently reading an interesting article called “How Not to Lose an Argument” and came across this:
“First, what does it mean to win or lose an argument? There is an unspoken belief in some quarters that the point of an argument is to gain social status by utterly demolishing your opponent's position, thus proving yourself the better thinker. That can be fun sometimes, and if it's really all you want, go for it. But the most important reason to argue with someone is to change his mind. If you want a world without fundamentalist religion, you're never going to get there just by making cutting and incisive critiques of fundamentalism that all your friends agree sound really smart. You've got to deconvert some actual fundamentalists. In the absence of changing someone's mind, you can at least get them to see your point of view. Getting fundamentalists to understand the real reasons people find atheism attractive is a nice consolation prize.”
This is really what we want – right? Changing minds when possible, and at least clearing up misconceptions about atheists.
Later in the article, the author says:
“If you believe morality is impossible without God, you have a strong disincentive to become an atheist. Even after you've realized which way the evidence points, you'll activate every possible defense mechanism for your religious beliefs. If all the defense mechanisms fail, you'll take God on utter faith or just believe in belief, rather than surrender to the unbearable position of an immoral universe.
The correct procedure for dealing with such a person, Eliezer suggests, isn't to show them yet another reason why God doesn't exist. They'll just reject it along with all the others. The correct procedure is to convince them, on a gut level, that morality is possible even in a godless universe. When disbelief in God is no longer so terrifying, people won't fight it quite so hard and may even deconvert themselves.”
This resonates with me strongly. It is a strategy of identifying and targeting root conditions which prevent a successful ‘intervention’ (as Peter Boghossian likes to call it). Here are a few root conditions to target:
- Belief that morality is impossible without god or religion (as mentioned above
- Belief that truth is a past event (revelation in the Bible) rather than a lifetime pursuit
- Belief that a meaningful life is impossible without god
- Belief that if there is no afterlife, this life is worthless
- Belief that questioning and being skeptical is dangerous
- Belief that people without a belief in god are unhappy and hopeless
- Fear of death, and not seeing loved ones again
What are other underlying issues which prevent believers from even considering that they might be wrong?
How can we attack and weaken these barriers to reason?
Please share your experiences, insights, and success stories in the comments below.
Written by J. M. Green