Here's why Catholics shouldn't debate atheists
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Arguing with atheists is a frustrating exercise. The atheist normally defaults to science and seeks scientific proof for a supernatural proposition. The atheist becomes frustrated and neither side gains understanding or appreciation for their opponent. The reason for this is simple, of course; neither side understands the true relationship between science and religion, and neither side understands how conversion works.
The way to convert an atheist isn't through debate, but through loving witness, involving deeds as opposed to words.
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - It was Galileo who once wrote, "Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so." This simple line may be among his most ingenious contributions to modern science. All science is, is a method of rational inquiry designed to yield a quantifiable result.
Simple, but important questions can be solved by adhering to this understanding. Is Earth's climate warming? How much fuel and thrust is needed to reach the moon and return to Earth? How effective is this medicine?
Science isn't what built civilization, but it is what built modern civilization. The conveniences we enjoy, our delicious well-preserved foods, our tremendous health and longer lifespans are largely the result of scientific discovery.
Science can make us more knowledgeable and healthier, it can speed things up and provide us with leisure time, but it cannot answer philosophical questions. It cannot give us meaning. Sure, science can suggest that the purpose of all structure and life in the universe is to promote efficient entropy -that is, the dissipation of energy, but such answers are decidedly unsatisfying. They do not provide much direction as to how we should be towards one another. Surely, there must be a better criteria for making personal decisions aside from entropy?
Maybe there's not, but we wouldn't know from science because science can only speak authoritatively about things that can be measured. And God, for example, cannot be measured.
When a scientist boldly declares there is no God, he commits the "fallacy" of philosophy. What experiment did he do to prove Schrodinger's cat was really dead? The only way to look into the box conclusively is to die yourself.
Religion provides us with a philosophical framework so we can more satisfyingly answer those questions which science cannot. What is the purpose of life? How should I treat my neighbor? Should I forgive a wrong?
Science can take a stab at these questions, but it cannot really answer them because how do you measure purpose? What units do you use to quantify it? How much does kindness weigh? What is the temperature of forgiveness?
Admittedly, these questions are absurd, but so too is the effort of science to measure that which it cannot measure.
God is inherently immeasurable, at least in Catholic belief. As a result, any scientific pronouncement on God is inherently ridiculous.
It bears repeating, there is no evidence the believer can offer to convince the atheist because you cannot measure faith. Faith, by the way, is the belief in a thing for which there is no evidence. As Christians we understand this to be an important pillar of our belief, one that was discussed by Jesus. However, the atheist despises faith, for outside of measuring brain activity, faith cannot be easily quantified.
The Christian must understand that speaking of faith and of personal experiences, and even of miracles and inexplicable phenomena, will have no effect on the atheist. The atheist will find ways to dismiss these claims, which tend to be very personal in nature. Nor will quoting the scriptures serve the Christian's cause. The latest trend in atheism is to deny Jesus ever existed at all; the case has been made and many atheists find it credible.
So how can we convert the atheist if nothing we say makes any difference?
The answer does not lie in scientific discussion, but rather in deeds, which communicate better that words ever could.
Conversion does not occur in the logical mind, contrary to popular belief. Conversion takes place in the emotional mind, a.k.a., the heart.
When a person challenges another person's core beliefs, the challenged person tends to mentally fortify their position. No matter what evidence you propose, no matter how sound your reasoning is, your opponent will double down on their belief. This is a known, natural response to a challenge. Debates between atheists and Christians don't cause people to convert -they cause them to become more of what they were before.
When the ancient Christians lived in Rome, they were forbidden to openly share their beliefs. Debate was out of the question. So how did they conquer the Empire? They did so by converting the hearts of those they met.
Hearts are converted through mercy and compassion. Kindness, fairness, justice, honesty, love, and all the other great virtues that should be typical of Christians, is the way to attract people and to silence detractors.
A good Christian does not need to announce their presence or make any show of faith, because their entire existence is their witness. There is no need to preach or to even hardly mention faith because the atheist either already knows or will ask. And they will see that your faith changes your life for the better and brings you joy. They will want that joy, and they will ask to follow you, no debates required.
This is the work of the Holy Spirit.
The best way then, to win a debate with an atheist, is to never debate at all. Instead, live as a witness to Christ, letting your virtues, and more importantly your deeds, speak for you. Do this and you cannot lose, no measuring required.
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