Thursday, June 9, 2011

Talking to Christians: Some Tips

I just watched an interesting video by a guy named Matt Slick. I hadn't previously heard of him, but he's got some excellent tips for atheists who are dealing with Christians, and his advice would work equally well with other believers, such as Muslims (or for that matter, for skeptics who are dealing with believers in "woo").

Here are excerpts of my transcription of Matt's video, which is titled "How to Talk to Christians":
Hi, my name is Matt Slick and welcome to the CARM Answer Desk. I want to discuss the issue of Christians and how they attack atheists and atheism. [snip] I'm gonna give you some pointers on how to deal with some Christians, OK? Atheists, listen to this. Look, we know that the Christians are constantly attacking atheism and attacking what we have to say. Well, I'm gonna tell you some basic, basic stuff that you can do to deal with them, all right?

Let's say for example a Christian makes an assertion. I'm gonna give an overly simplified one. You know, they'll say something like, "There is a god." OK, you know what? Instead of saying "Oh no there's not!" and then trying to prove it, I would say to them something like, "Well, how do you know that?" Ask questions! If they make an assertion, have them substantiate their assertion. Very, very simple. Have them establish what it is they're saying. [snip]

Remember this, don't try and just simply refute whatever they say whenever they say it. I'm known for saying this great comeback when a Christian says something to me. They'll say something like, "Well, atheists are really arrogant," and I'll say something like "So? What's the big deal about it? If you don't like us, OK, whatever." And the Christians, you know, what are they gonna do? [snip]

So, when a Christian is talking to you, ask those questions, and...seriously, [say] "Yeah, so, what's the big deal about it?" Get them to explain more. And the more they do that, then the more you're gonna find out that they're gonna have holes in their ideas and holes in their statements. It's not that difficult to do. [snip]

Now, I'd also say that what you need to do is admit—this is important, atheists!—admit when you don't have an answer. You know, if I were a Christian and I was talking to some atheist and this atheist was trying to snow me, and trying to give an answer for every single thing, and the answers are falling apart, I'm not gonna have any respect for that person. But I'd have a lot more respect for someone who said, "You know what, that's a good question. I'm not really sure; let me go research it for you and get back with you." That's not a problem, that's intellectually honest, and you know, I do that. You can do that, and you know what, even when Christians do that, I appreciate that when I'm talking to them, and I ask them a question, and they don't have an answer, and they say, "Well, you know what? That's a good question! I'll have to go back and research it." No problem at all. And then just follow up and do that.

So basically, dealing with Christians isn't that difficult. They're the ones who often make assertions. Ask them to demonstrate the validity of their assertions. Listen to what they're saying. Ask questions about what they're saying. See if their statements are logical, see if there's some problem inside the logic. For example, what if a Christian said, "There is a god, I know there is a god," you'd have to know all things to know if there is or is no god, so logically it's not possible. So by listening to what they say, you can hopefully learn a little bit about logic in their statements and see if their statements are valid or not. It's not that difficult; it's pretty easy. So basically, ask questions, listen, find out their presuppositions, admit if you don't have an answer, and learn to say "So?" a lot. See how it goes, and I think you might enjoy your discussions with Christians a lot more.

My only quibble with Matt's video is that he was a bit careless with his wording (that's been going around lately). I think he got the terms "atheist" and "atheism" confused with "Christian" and "Christianity," so I took the liberty of fixing that for him. Oh, and where he said things like "there is no god," I fixed that too, by changing it to "there is a god." Other than that, good job, Matt!

By the way, "CARM," which Matt referred to at the beginning of his video, is the acronym for the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry.

On the off chance that Matt might take issue with my...ahem...corrections, here's his video, with his original wording. See which version you prefer, his or mine!


  1. This is what we speak, not in words taught by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Anonymous, and I'm glad you found my blog even though I've neglected it for months! (Life is keeping me busy, but mostly in good ways.)

    You write of "realities." Would you be willing to explain how one can know that God and "things that come from the Spirit of God" are indeed real, and not just products of the imagination and/or wish fulfillment? (I'm not clear whether the "words" and "things" you're talking about are claims made by the Bible, or words/things that you believe you've heard or learned directly from your god. I'll assume for now that you mean "statements that appear in the Bible.")

    I don't doubt that these things are "real" to you, but you are correct that extraordinary claims (the resurrection of dead people, for example) that are not supported by objective evidence are often regarded as "foolishness" by those outside your religion. You regard extraordinary claims made by religions other than your own as "foolishness," do you not? Or do you accept statements like "Mohammed rode to Heaven on a winged horse," "The goddess Athena sprang fully-grown from the head of Zeus," or "Scientology can increase IQ and cure arthritis" at face value?

    Since you didn't leave an email address, I hope that you'll visit my blog again so we can continue this conversation.

  3. I agree that Christians must research their apologetics (reasons for what they believe) before (after and during) witnessing to others. The best way "to deal with Christians" is find the middle ground on something they already profess belief in, i.e. scripture. The fundamental belief of Christianity is that you cannot know God but by His Word (invitation, instruction, intervention, etc.) and Spirit (an indwelling connection and communication with God initiated through faith in His Word). Being a Christian, I am not giving this advice just so one side can retaliate in argument against another, but especially when their message is void of the very love and grace by which they claim to be saved by, they need to be challanged if not even rebuked. The main theme consistant through the Old and New Testaments (the Law and Grace) is "as you have judged so shall you be judged;" which I consider to be the "spirit (main intent) of the law." No Christian should come with an attitude of you being "beneath them," or they being "holier than thou," as the basis of Christianity is the belief that Jesus (called the Word made flesh), AKA Emmanuel (God with us), is God coming to minister and bless His people through the sacrifice of Himself. Christ also said that Gentiles (sinners, pagans, secular world) excersise lordship one over another (constantly trying to dominate others and force or manipulate others to their will), but Christians (believing that God sets the ultimate example of righteousness) must not do this but humble themselves as a servant for the good and benefit of others (even as they profess to believe He did). The purpose of ministering the gospel (the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and all the implications thereof if indeed this is the "Son of God," and "Word made flesh.") is to offer the salvation that only God can provide from the judgments of our sins (the judgments we have rendered unto others returned back to us by the hand of God..."as you have judged so shall you be judged"). If they minister without the love and compassion that Christ had toward them, that they might be saved, then they are failing that example of grace and love in Christ, and causing you to hear a phoney and offensive gospel and deterring you from ever hearing the truth.

    "The name of the LORD is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you.." is God's warning to accurately reflect God's intentions when speaking in His name. It means sinners continue to sin because the people that claim to be mine, do not obey my Word and example: seeming to justify the mentality that if they claim to believe it and don't do it, why should I ("If you being a Jew and live after the manner of the Gentiles and not as do the Jews, then why do you compel the Gentiles to live as the Jews?")? Be warned I am not saying there is no sin, need for repentance and salvation, or a coming judgment; only that the gospel is supposed to be a plea to accept the offer of God to escape the judgments of our own ways ("Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God."), and must be presented in a fashion after the motto they love to recite: "What would/did Jesus do?" ("For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake.") That is how the gospel ought to be presented! If this not their tone and demeanor, by al means send them back to school to know what they are talking about ("The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits." Meaning you need to know the gospel before you try to preach it!)!

    1. Hi, Anonymous; thank you for visiting my blog. If you choose to visit again in the future (which I'd judge as unlikely, given that you didn't bother to leave your name), perhaps you'd be good enough to explain why you accept the Christian Bible as "truth."

    2. I approach the bible as a skeptic, maybe even as a cynic. Safe to say with the wild promises listed in the bible God has put Himself in quite a pickle if He wishes to declare Himself as righteous, "Faithful and True," unable to lie or contradict Himself. View the bible based on what God claims to be, what He says of the world, Himself, mankind, past present and future events. In order for God to be He who "sees the end before the beginning," there must be a certain consistancy to what He says and does. God has put Himself upon the cross (if you will) open to the criticism and mockery of the world because He intends to fulfill the Word precisely as He told it to you. In short, within the Word is the evidence of the Author; not just of His existance (so the world is left asking who said that) but of His superior intellegiance and gracious intent. My only warning in evaluating these things for yourself is to judge God and His Word (Christ) as you would want be judged. Make a full inquiry, not a hasty judgment to support preconceived notions and expectations. For being God, He is ever beyond our meager understanding and expectations.

    3. Anonymous, I know it's elitist and snarky of me to judge people's intelligence by the way they spell the word "intelligence," but at my age, I'm unlikely to change. :-)

      Since the commenters on this post seem unwilling or unable to provide anything in the way of objective evidence for the claims that Christianity makes (for example, that dead people can be resurrected), I won't bother asking for such again. As always, I have Better Things to Waste (My) Time On!

    4. Your right, I am a horrible speller. But am I rude, judgmental, or any of the attributes your post applies to christians. My point is don't limit yourself to the understanding of those that bring up the subject with you. Research it yourself. The church is, afterall, children teaching children. For instance, is resurrection really the point that makes it a "waste (of your) time?" To even hypothetically argue the existance of God, who created all things from nothing, is it any challange to say He can give life where there already once was life before? The issue then begs the question why? Why did He come? Why did He say the things or do the things He did? Why was He resurrected? Was God, who teaches the impartial judgment of the law, playing favorites to resurrect His Son, or is His judgment truly impartial as He tells others their's should be?

      People who question the existance of God, usually also question absolute truth. And I agree. If God does not exist, then all truth becomes subject to interpretation, and reduced to mere opinion and educated guesses. If then God does exist, truth exists on the premise of His Word and example. For if God were to lie then truth is not; for how can He expect the people to honor that which He would/could not do Himself(hence the entirety of the law fulfilled in Christ)?

      As far as "objective evidence," that is why it is called a miracle! If God and His actions were easily comprehended then either He is less than God, or we would have to be equal to Him.

    5. Anonymous, how do you define the word "miracle"? In your opinion, did miracles occur only in biblical times, or do they still occur today? Can you provide some examples of events that you'd consider miracles and that can be researched? (In other words, events for which there is some documentation, photos, physical evidence, etc.)

    6. I believe a great many things that claim to be "scientifically explained" are miracles. Just because we disect a process into phases does not mean we have an understanding as to how those changes occur. Our knowledge of gravity, electromagnetism, and living things is juvenile at best.

      "Science mocks religion as a superstitious institution of those afraid to accept the reality of life; yet science, which boasts itself upon the foundation of truth and fact promotes theories to substitute those facts not known or able to be proven, and slanders all who will not concede to the "truth" of their findings. Science, which cannot so much as fully catalog the diversity of life found only upon this planet, nor perfect a diet or medicine to maintain the health of human and animal anatomy, nor predict the weather with any dependable degree of consistency, nor discover the secrets to the beginnings of life in plants or animals or humans (the dissection of a process into phases does not constitute the reasoning and explanation as to how these changes occur; wherefore it is written, "As you know not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so you know not the works of God who makes all." And, "So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knows not how. For the earth brings forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest is come." And again, "The wind blows where it lists, and you hear the sound thereof, but cannot tell whence it comes, and whither it goes: so is every one that is born of the Spirit."), boasts of its knowledge beyond its ability to prove, as though they admit the workings of a greater intelligence then their own; making "natural selection" the function of a deity, the existence of which their labors and studies attempt to disprove; and thus, making itself a superstitious institution of those afraid to admit the reality of God."

    7. Our understanding of our world and our universe in admittedly incomplete. That doesn't mean it will always stay that way, or that what knowledge we do have is wrong. And when science does get something wrong—if something doesn't happen how or when it's predicted to happen—the old ideas will be discarded, and a new explanation will be sought. Science, unlike religion, is a self-correcting system.

      I assume that your second paragraph is not your own work but a quote, since you enclosed it in quotation marks. Could you please provide the name of the author and the work in which it appeared? For example:

      "What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence." — Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything