Author Topic: How to debate a fundamentalist - or not.  (Read 4123 times)

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Offline Quasirodent

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How to debate a fundamentalist - or not.
« on: October 07, 2014, 12:31:28 pm »
We've seen countless examples of how futile it is to debate with hardcore fundamentalists, and I've been thinking about why that is.

As I understand it, as I've observed, human beings create their own reality within their mind.  Their subconscious is like a tiny god which perceives the world through the senses of the human body, and builds another world of its own.  This inner world is based on that limited perception, plus whatever that person learns and experiences.  As it is built and filled in, the inner world changes - it becomes unique to the person, and different from the inner worlds of other people.

Such an inner world is useful, it becomes a map for dealing with the outside world.  Things are familiar, things have a predictability, you know where you are.  But unfortunately, with most people, as they get older, they rely more and more on the inner world, until it becomes what they perceive as reality, they are no longer able to separate their opinions from fact, their personal experience from universal existence.

This is true of any person who isn't self-aware enough to question their own opinions, motives, and decisions.  And from what I can tell, most people don't.  That they want something is enough of a reason, they don't care why they want it.  Such people are ruled by instincts and social mores because they don't acknowledge that they exist.  But it is especially true of Religious Fundamentalists whose doctrine instructs that it is bad to question, and that humans are not animals and certainly do not have animal instincts.

So when talking to them, we have to understand that they live in a world that IS miraculous, that they see natural events as direct acts of the divine, and that their mind has already decided that their God is real, scientific proof is wrong, questioning or testing their scripture is evil, and that anything more complicated than the answers they already know must be false.  Our arguments are not only wrong before we make them, but they're tainted with Satan's agenda, and really to even consider them would be a risk of that person's soul and faith.

Which makes me think maybe we shouldn't try to challenge them.  Perhaps a passive approach is better, let them think they've won, keep such people happy and idle until they fade away.  I'm not entirely sure what that would entail, but I do know Fundies are already primed for brainwashing and manipulation, it's just a matter of crafting the right suggestions. 
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Offline R. U. Sirius

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Re: How to debate a fundamentalist - or not.
« Reply #1 on: October 07, 2014, 01:01:55 pm »
Congratulations, you just discovered Buddhism!

In all seriousness, though, while trying to directly change fundamentalists' minds is largely useless as you said, I don't agree that we should sit back and let them "think they won" without challenging their assumptions. There are two reasons for this: A) some of them are still self-aware enough to open up and question their old worldview, which will usually make them more religiously liberal at least, and B) not challenging them will give them more and more opportunity to influence and indoctrinate others, particularly the young.
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Offline Ironchew

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Re: How to debate a fundamentalist - or not.
« Reply #2 on: October 07, 2014, 01:40:27 pm »
Which makes me think maybe we shouldn't try to challenge them.  Perhaps a passive approach is better, let them think they've won, keep such people happy and idle until they fade away.

I disagree. (I largely agree with what R. U. Sirius said above.) Atheists were convinced in the late 19th/early 20th century that religion had been dealt a critical blow by modern philosophical thought and scientific advances. They determined that religion would go away on it's own and they needn't interfere; sadly, all it seemed to do was encourage more religious revival movements later on.

I've found that, when all else fails and someone's perception of reality is nigh-impervious, sustained ridicule from the outside eventually gets to them. We are a social species and we all care at least a little bit about how palatable our beliefs are to others. Religious people get around this by insulating themselves with other like-minded people, but the ridicule has to be universal enough to tear through those circles. All other successful social movements have had to reach this breaking point -- the modern condemnation of racism is a good analogy.

Congratulations, you just discovered Buddhism!

If you don't think Buddhism has poisonous attitudes, you haven't seen populations where they enjoy being the religious majority (e.g. Burma or Sri Lanka). A lot of the literature that Imperial Japan used to justify invading east Asian countries was written by fascist Buddhists and they drew heavily from Buddhist teachings.
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Offline Ultimate Paragon

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Re: How to debate a fundamentalist - or not.
« Reply #3 on: October 07, 2014, 02:04:51 pm »
Generally, people don't debate frummers to change their minds, they do it to convince others they have it wrong.

Offline Witchyjoshy

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Re: How to debate a fundamentalist - or not.
« Reply #4 on: October 07, 2014, 03:25:48 pm »
Ironchew, R.U. Sirius, and Ultimate Paragon are all correct.

You don't debate fundamentalists to change their minds, because no force in heaven or earth can change a fundamentalist's mind until they're damn well ready to change it.

You debate fundamentalists for the third party.  The anonymous masses, watching, learning, waiting.
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Offline Old Viking

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Re: How to debate a fundamentalist - or not.
« Reply #5 on: October 07, 2014, 03:27:52 pm »
I seldom bother to debate fundies.  If do, my intention is simply to irritate them.  That's fun for a few minutes.
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Offline lord gibbon

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Re: How to debate a fundamentalist - or not.
« Reply #6 on: October 07, 2014, 06:26:50 pm »
Viking summed up my reasons for debating fundamentalists. It's fun to tear apart their weak and idiotic arguments. As for the more serious side of thing, I can't put it any better that Ironchew did. Mel Brooks put it best: "You can't reason with fanatics. It makes them look respectable. Ridicule shows everyone how silly they really are." Not a direct quote, by the way, because Google hates me, it seems.
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Re: How to debate a fundamentalist - or not.
« Reply #7 on: October 07, 2014, 07:49:59 pm »
Personally, I just can't be arsed to argue with fundies anymore. I used to do quite a bit as a teenager, and while it was funny for a while, it was about as productive trying to bash my way into a nuclear bomb shelter using only my head. Sure, you could argue that it's for the benefit of any non-fundies who happen to be watching, but let's be honest, nobody is going to change the world by arguing on the internet, be it me or anyone else. To think otherwise is just Tumblrina levels of slacktivism.
« Last Edit: October 07, 2014, 09:33:48 pm by Art Vandelay »

Offline Sigmaleph

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Re: How to debate a fundamentalist - or not.
« Reply #8 on: October 07, 2014, 09:29:47 pm »
You don't have to change the world for something to be worthwhile, though. Maybe you just helped one person learn one thing they didn't know before. That seems like a good reason to argue, sometimes.

Of course, that's not why I do it. I do it because it's fun.
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Offline R. U. Sirius

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Re: How to debate a fundamentalist - or not.
« Reply #9 on: October 07, 2014, 09:50:23 pm »
Congratulations, you just discovered Buddhism!

If you don't think Buddhism has poisonous attitudes, you haven't seen populations where they enjoy being the religious majority (e.g. Burma or Sri Lanka). A lot of the literature that Imperial Japan used to justify invading east Asian countries was written by fascist Buddhists and they drew heavily from Buddhist teachings.

Oh, believe me, I know. I doubt there's a single religion, other than possibly Wicca, whose followers haven't bloodied their hands in its name at some point, and as you said, in Wicca's case it's probably lack of numbers as much as anything.
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Offline Nemo

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Re: How to debate a fundamentalist - or not.
« Reply #10 on: October 07, 2014, 11:28:54 pm »
Wicca also has the luxury of not really existing until the modern era. Many pagan* religions, back in the times when the current "five you learn about in middle school social studies" were founded, weren't exactly innocent.

In any case, I debate fundamentalists partly because I enjoy it. Arguing is fun for me, and it helps me stay informed on a number of issues. I've learned so much about biology and science in general just by debating creationists (not from them obviously). I also like to break their echo chamber. It is shocking to me how I hear so much stuff over and over again which exhibits fractal wrongness, but I should also know from my own upbringing that it's because many fundies in their personal lives never hear any opposing opinion, so false information is able to spread throughout their communities and go unchallenged for a long time. Those who follow my posts on this site and FSTDT might be familiar with my dislike of David Barton, and I will say it again: I am always shocked by just how many people repeat his version of history without checking any facts. And whenever I meet someone on the Internet who buys into that, I challenge them on their beliefs. I am living proof that people raised in fundamentalist communities can be reached. It just takes a long time.
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Offline Quasirodent

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Re: How to debate a fundamentalist - or not.
« Reply #11 on: October 08, 2014, 01:15:33 am »
Well by letting them think they've won I was kind of thinking of ways to manipulating them into making examples of themselves.
But that aside, I wouldn't mind some tips and tactical help from people who are experienced at handling these folks.
How do you deal with them?  What works best?  What are they not likely to have answers already written down for?
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Offline Ironchew

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Re: How to debate a fundamentalist - or not.
« Reply #12 on: October 08, 2014, 08:40:44 am »
Well by letting them think they've won I was kind of thinking of ways to manipulating them into making examples of themselves.
But that aside, I wouldn't mind some tips and tactical help from people who are experienced at handling these folks.
How do you deal with them?  What works best?  What are they not likely to have answers already written down for?

You have to have good moderation and a neutral venue. This is extremely important because creationists often pick the venue and it's on their home turf. In some ways this is good because an atheist can reach out to more religious people when they're physically sitting there in the audience, but formal debate itself is also weak against the showmanship that preachers in general are very good at, especially when they are also the moderators. They will declare themselves the winner, and the audience will probably agree.

Having a skeptical moderator that won't allow creationists to Gish gallop makes all the difference. This is often achieved in an asymmetrical format like a call-in show where one side is the moderator (The Atheist Experience, for instance), but there are also formal debates with good moderators every now and then. In this one they wouldn't let Sye Ten Bruggencate use his one and only rhetorical device for the bazillionth time, so he just got up and left:

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfyIvF4kUO4" target="_blank">http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfyIvF4kUO4</a>
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Offline Nemo

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Re: How to debate a fundamentalist - or not.
« Reply #13 on: October 08, 2014, 10:19:33 am »
Ironchew, you forget the true beauty of that clip. Sye was more or less kicked off, but then he demanded the maker of the video say he left. Talk about a crybaby.
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Offline Beezlebub

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Re: How to debate a fundamentalist - or not.
« Reply #14 on: October 08, 2014, 10:37:08 am »
I just do it because I'm a sucker for thumb-ups.

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