Pat Condell: "Provide Evidence or Expect Mockery and Ridicule"

Here at DC I try to carry on a reasonable discussion with people who disagree with me. In the interests of fairness, what do you think of Pat Condell's approach below? I agree with him that Christian beliefs are ridiculous. And I know many Christians think atheism is ridiculous. What if both sides in this debate approached each other as Condell suggests? Many of them do.

First posted 11/2/08


John W. Loftus said...

BTW: Pat is not referring to me as one of those atheists who have personally criticized him.

pwoon said...

I agree with Pat. Christians wouldn't be "polite" when talking about atheists, so why should we be? This sort of reminds me of the Kerry campaign in 2004 when he suggested that people in his campaign be civil with the other party, when the other party wasn't.

Warren said...

That was very refreshing.

elwedriddsche said...

I agree with Pat, too.

Unless you have the time to waste or you're out to (de)convert, debating with theists is an exercise in futility. I used to enjoy these debates a few years ago, but I've long reached the conclusion that it suffices to state my own positions if and when I feel compelled to speak out. I don't go out of my way to insult theists, but I do not suffer fools gladly.

At the end of the day, the tone depends on the context. There's no point trying to be friendly with a drive-by proselytizer (unless this is intended as mockery in and by itself), but there's no reason to scare off the few theists who sincerely seek a dialogue.

Evan said...

In almost all cases of societal change there are multiple points of view and various people require a different approach to convince them.

The civil rights movement in the US for example had both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Both were effective at advancing their cause even though their methods were very different.

In the end, not everyone requires an argument to stop believing (why do I always hear Journey when I type that phrase?). Some people just begin one day to view the whole package as ridiculous. Others change when facts are shown to them that are impossible given their weltanschaung.

Both approaches are valid, even if Mr. Condell chooses to be the Malcolm X in this particular movement.

Jeffrey said...

I'm with evan. Both have their place, and most authors/speakers use both.

I would suggest a loosely rock/paper/scissors relation among ridicule/reason/ignoring.

To shake up people who are ignoring you, use fiery rhetoric and mockery, whether you are a preacher or "new atheist."

To bring down mockers in the eyes of their followers, you use reason to show that they aren't really thinking that hard.

Reasoning cannot really be defeated expect by better reasoning. But it can be ignored, and in a battle for minds, that's enough.

Arizona Atheist said...

I must agree completely with Pat. I, too, have given up on debating religious individuals. From my experience they are usually too close-minded to listen to you.

A case in point is the christian apologist David Marshall, who I have been corresponding with for about a year, debating problems I found with his book The Truth Behind the New Atheism.

I found that more often than not, Marshall insulted me instead of debating me, or was simply dismissive, after I pointed out many errors in his book and asked him to look at my newly revised 80 page review of his book. I've since given up "debating" him. He is simply too close-minded to even accept he could be wrong, despite enormous counter evidence.

I've seen that Mr. Loftus is listed (at least last I saw) as an "amazon friend" of Marshall's but I don't see how any atheist would want to be "friends" with this man. His attitude towards people who disagree with him is, more often than not, appalling (at least in my experience).

After asking him to read my review he declined and insisted I was wrong without ever reading it. There is clearly no debating many of these people. They do not allow any form of logic to seep into their minds and until they allow that, they will forever be deaf, dumb and blind.

While I greatly respect all atheists who fight against religious nonsense, I completely disagree with any friendly discourse.

While I'm writing I figured I'd let Mr. Loftus and Mr. Avalos know that I have two of their books: Loftus' Why I Rejected Christianity and Avalos' The End of Biblical Studies. I plan on ordering his Fighting Words soon too. These books are excellent and I really enjoyed them.

Only thing is, I don't see any reason for a debate. In reality there is no debate here because theists are claiming things exist without a shred of evidence. All this back and forth is a bit pointless.

Bart said...

We are waging a culture war. And these people are on the front lines. Any good campaign uses all of the avenues of attack available to it, and keeps all of its flanks covered. Dennet with a very high brow philosophical tract, Dawkins with his dismissive academia, Condell and Carlin with their humorous ridicule, they are all parts of the clash of culture. None hurt the cause of rationality. When a theist with a question in his belief is offended by the abrasives, they can be coddled by the philosophers. The hard liners can bash against the wall of reason to no avail, while the ridicule is poured down upon them. There is a war going on for peoples minds. I just hope that it stays a war of words, and not of weapons.

Roy said...

Whether one debates respectfully or not depends upon what one is pushing. If one is hoping to advance atheism, then respectful debate is often pointless. However, if the goal is to advance reason, then being reasonable is best. This is not easy in the face of unreasonable people and unconstrained unreasonable arguments. If you are going to attempt it, it is best to have an audience so there can be some positive effect on the spectators.

Keep in mind that one of the primitive joys of fundamentalist belief is that of self-righteousness. I think Mr. Condell is sharing in that joy. I think it's best not to.

zilch said...

As elwed has also said elsewhere, I loves me some Pat Condell. He's witty and pointed- for instance, from this clip:

Now, I think the past has plenty to teach us, but I don't think it should be allowed to detain us against our will.

But while admire him, I can't wholeheartedly agree with his mockery of polite atheists. While it is impossible to know what works best to open minds, it seems to me that there is room for all kinds of approaches: from take-no-prisoners mockery to patient reasonable discourse. Let a thousand flowers bloom.

John W. Loftus said...

Arizona Atheist, I am personal friends with many Christians, including many I have the utmost respect for and some I'm related to like my Mom, my brother, my Aunts, and my cousins. Yes, David Marshall is a friend of mine. Here are other friends of mine you might have heard of: Dinesh D'Souza, William Lane Craig, James D. Strauss, Paul Copan, James F. Sennett, Mark Linville, Norman Geisler, Scot McKnight, Ruth Tucker, and many others whom you might not know who teach in Christian colleges and/or Seminaries. I have friends who are presidents of Christian colleges, who write weekly columns for Christian magazines, who preach in a myriad of churches around America and/or who are missionaries in foreign counties.

I personally have not found any of them to be antagonistic toward me, even Marshall, whom I may debate in the future. Sometimes it depends on how we regard them and treat them. Given the fact that you support Pat Condell's approach I have little doubt why Marshall responded negatively toward you.


Arizona Atheist said...

Hi Mr. Loftus. Yes I've heard of many of these men. I don't see how my attitude towards Marshall could have caused his foul attitude towards me since when we first began discussing things, he is the one who insulted me first and replied with a condescending attitude towards me when all I asked was to debate him, with him saying something to the effect of, "You need more experience before you debate me." Yeah, real polite and humble, eh? Despite others' experiences with him he continuously acted in a condescending manner towards myself, and others, not to mention the dishonest things he continues to spread about me on the forums. It is true that after being continually insulted I have fired back, but I in no way initially approached him with mockery or insults.


zilch said...

ArizonaAtheist: yes, that's a toughie, when you're insulted from the get-go. Sometimes giving Christians a taste of their own medicine, in the form of turning the other cheek, does embarrass them enough to tone down the invective.

Sometimes, however, it doesn't help. Triablogue comes to mind: I managed to hold out there for quite some time without retorting in kind, but I finally threw in the towel, when it became obvious that the discussion was going nowhere, and most of the posters there were more interested in witty putdowns than matters of substance.

Gandolf said...

Sometimes fire has to be fought using fire.But water or foam is the first choice.

elwedriddsche said...

Yo zilch ;-)

I wouldn't sign my name to every word Pat Condell speaks, but it's close. I wish I could trivially find a transcript of this particular video, so I did the next best thing and listened to it again.

I fully agree with him that the accusation of "giving atheism a bad name" is asinine. Like it ever had a good name to lose...

I also agree with him that debating religious dogma dignifies something that doesn't deserve it. It's the same principle that makes Jonathan Miller hesitate to call himself an atheist -- the very act of accepting this label already dignifies the very thing it denies. This is one of the reasons why I only comment on this site once in a blue moon. For all practical purposes, I've been an atheist for all my life and it's close to 40 years since I last peeked inside a Bible, therefore I'm not in the same position as the site's authors who have something to prove with regards to their former beliefs.

Further, I agree with Pat that debating believers is a hobby. You can do it to show off your debating skillz, to be passive-aggressive, or to stand up and be counted, but unless you want to sway believers of shaky faith and hope to affect deconversions, it's really a colossal waste of time.

I respect the right to believe what you will, but am not obligated to respect other's beliefs. It's a problem that all too many people consider disrespect of their beliefs as disrespect of them personally, but it is my own firmly held belief that that's just too bad ;-)

Anyway, enough said. I'm outta here again.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Elwed..
You can do it to show off your debating skillz, to be passive-aggressive, or to stand up and be counted, but unless you want to sway believers of shaky faith and hope to affect deconversions, it's really a colossal waste of time.

you left out "Game of Strategy", like Chess, Go or Risk.

zilch said...

Sometimes fire has to be fought using fire.But water or foam is the first choice.

Thanks, Gandolf. I always wondered why, when I debate fundamentalists, I usually end up spitting and foaming at the mouth...

Gandolf said...

Zilch said Thanks, Gandolf. I always wondered why, when I debate fundamentalists, I usually end up spitting and foaming at the mouth...

Try to Breathe deeply Zilch :)

zilch said...

Believe me, Gandolf, I do.

Steven Carr said...

How do you avoid ridiculing Christianity?

If I say that the Gospels teach that Jesus told his friends how to get free money by looking in the mouth of a fish, is this an expose of Christian beliefs or an exposition of Christian beliefs?

If I point out that Christians believe that pigs were possessed by demons, it is going to sound like ridicule.

If I point out that Jesus healed blind people by spitting on their eyes, it is going to sound like ridicule.

The only way to avoid ridiculing Christian beliefs is to avoid saying what they are.