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Three mistakes Christians make with atheists, and what works better

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By Marshall Connolly (Catholic Online)
4/5/2018 (9 months ago)
Catholic Online (

Avoiding common errors helps build credibility.

Christians and atheists argue all the time. There's nothing wrong with this if the goal is simply to debate. But if the goal is to convert hearts, it's the wrong way to go about it. This is just one of several mistakes that we Christians make when trying to convince atheists that we aren't crazy to believe in God. 

This approach never works.

This approach never works.


By Marshall Connolly (Catholic Online)
Catholic Online (
4/5/2018 (9 months ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: atheists, atheism, Catholic, christian, errors

LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - Here are a few big mistakes Christians make when arguing with atheists. 

1. Logical fallacies. A logical fallacy is an error in logic, a sort of short-circuit in thinking. These are common in our everyday thought and interactions, so we find it hard to recognize them without training. The straw man is perhaps the most common. This is where a person deliberately misrepresents an opponent's position to make it easier to attack. But there are others. Hasty generalizations, assuming all atheists are the same is another common fallacy. There are dozens if not hundreds of fallacies. 

Learning to recognize fallacies will make you a more formidable debater. And unless you are familiar with the most common fallacies, you will be defenseless against opponents who are. Engaging in a debate while poorly armed will only embolden your opposition, weaken your own faith, and will result in frustration and humiliation. It's not enough to know the Bible and to be a believer. You need to know how to debate, which is a skill that is rarely taught. Understanding logic is one skill of many that will serve you well. 

2. Failure to understand science. Many Christians simply don't understand science. In fairness, there are a lot of atheists who don't understand science either, but they generally know more than their Christian counterparts. Science is often what leads many people into atheism. This doesn't mean science is bad. It just means that some people take it for more than what it is worth, giving science a role in their lives that it was never designed to occupy. 

Science is a method of rational inquiry that is designed to eliminate bias while revealing that what is probably, objectively true. It is a powerful method for making sense of the universe. It has opened to us a wonderful body of knowledge that now underpins modern society. 

Science does not reveal absolute truths. Science cannot measure the supernatural. Science and the supernatural don't mix. You can have an understanding of the universe that includes both, but science can never "prove" the existence of God nor disprove it. Science can always provide the how, but rarely the why because why is subjective. 

Science cannot satisfy Hume's problem of induction which is why scientific facts are bundled together into "theories." This shouldn't be construed as to assume that scientists are unsure of their theories. Indeed, a theory is based on a bundle of facts and is practically indisputable. However, scientists recognize that the scientific method does not produce absolute truths, and therefore they use the word theory to convey this. No sane person would challenge the theory of gravity or dispute germ theory. Arguing against evolution and the big bang won't gain you much respect. 

Learn about science so it will serve you in a discussion. By showing you understand science you will gain respect and acceptance among the people you hope to persuade. 

3. Debating atheists in general
. When we attack people's sincerely held core beliefs, something strange happens. Their brain closes off. It doesn't matter how right we are. We could confront a person with a litany of research, statistics, information, and logic, and we could be absolutely, objectively right. It will mean nothing. This is what doctors confront in the debate about vaccines. There ought to be no discussion, yet millions of people simply refuse to vaccinate because they have a religious belief that vaccines are harmful. No evidence will convince them. If evidence worked on their decision-making process, they would get their shots. 

Likewise, it is the same between Christians and atheists. Both sides prefer different forms of evidence. Where a Christian sees an answered prayer or a miracle, the atheist sees only coincidence. Arguing about this will only drive both sides deeper into their bunkers of faith. 

Do not insult the atheist, or call them stupid. That will destory all hope. Nobody is going to accept they are stupid. Offering evidence to support such a claim will only provoke anger. Instead, find a way for people to save face in the discussion. Don't try to crush a person's ego. Instead, offer a way out.

Rather than this direct, confrontational approach, the better alternative is to invite the atheist to understand and participate in your faith. This invitation will rarely be accepted. But it's a nice offer and builds affinity, which is key to persuasion. People are never persuaded by people they dislike or disrespect. You can only be persuaded by people you like. Therefore, your first goal in converting an atheist ought to be to get them to like you. Until this happens, nothing else matters. 

Remember, conversion happens in the heart. Every time Our Lady has called upon the faithful, she has called for the conversion of hearts. Nothing else. 

So, if you wish to be successful in arguing with atheists, avoid the direct, confrontational approach. Learn logic and science and use these to build affinity and understanding. Be inviting and likable. And when they have questions, answer them with kindness. Extend an invitation, and always be warm and welcoming. Such an approach may not win you many debates, but it will win hearts, and that's the goal. 

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