Social Question

Seek's avatar

Should I take the bait and battle the pastor?

Asked by Seek (34734points) October 8th, 2011

Every Thursday, a local Young-Earth Creationist, Christian church marches through my apartment complex seeking to recruit new members by offering door prizes and Pascal’s Wager.

Instead of hanging a “No Soliciting” sign like my neighbor, I’ve decided to “fight back” as it were. If they can try to convert me, I can try to deconvert them, right?

When they come over, I invite them in and chat with them. It usually ends with them referring to their notes, looking confused, and asking me how to spell “Valhalla” and “Osiris”.

Most recently, I had a lovely conversation with a young gentleman who called me his “Favourite Atheist”.

This gentleman asked me whether I’d consider sitting down for a chat with his pastor to discuss evolution vs. creation and biblical inerrancy.

I haven’t spoken to a member of the clergy since my deconversion. I’m certainly no Richard Dawkins, but I think I could hold my own against a local YEC. You lovely Flutherites know my arguments better than anyone. Should I take the bait?

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64 Answers

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr : I’ve read your statements on here and believe you could face off against any of the best the YEC can offer. Be prepared for a verbal beating and offerings of prayer. I say go for it.

HungryGuy's avatar

As long as you have all your science current, your Bible memorized, can recognize and counter fallacies, and can stand up to pressure, then go for it!

Seek's avatar

I’ll have to work on memorizing the Latin words for logical fallacies. Just because it makes me sound smart to say “reductio ad absurdum”

lillycoyote's avatar

I would take him up on the offer. You can hold your own, it’s not like you’re in any danger of being sucked into some cult, and you’re somebody’s “Favourite Atheist!” :-) Just keep it reasonably civil, as I’m sure you will, and don’t expect too much. I doubt you’re going to change the pastor’s mind. I just think it could be kind of interesting. A little field trip to someone else’s world, think of yourself as an anthropologist doing field work. Those things can be enlightening in all sorts of ways, even if they are places you never want to go back to.

lillycoyote's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr You’re better off with an understanding of the fallacies themselves, you’re smart enough, no need to merely sound smart, I don’t think.

Seek's avatar

^_^ Thanks, @lillycoyote

I just don’t know nearly enough Latin. Any excuse, really.

talljasperman's avatar

Go ahead… it’s your choice… tell us how it turn’s out.

HungryGuy's avatar

Actually, knowing Latin is immensely useful in science and medicine, but don’t use it just to sound smart, or you’ll end up sounding dumb instead.

Seek's avatar

Fair enough., HG.

jaytkay's avatar

I’ll have to work on memorizing the Latin words for logical fallacies.

No way, no how. Absolutely not. Use English descriptions for the fallacies or use analogies.

From Fluther I know you are the Harry Truman type – “I never did give them hell. I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell.”

Seek's avatar

I love that quote, @jaytkay.

jaytkay's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr Thnx. You are very kind.

You are also the Winston Churchill type. “The short words are the best, and the old words when short are best of all.”

“I see” is better than “In my perspective”.

“This is bad” is better than “in my opinion this is not the best outcome”

Don’t dick around. Say what you mean. Go forth and win.

CWOTUS's avatar

Keep in mind one little bit of Christian theology that I can understand, even if I don’t agree with the fundamentals:

You can fight the devil, but it’s not a wise move to challenge the devil.

I hope you understand my meaning.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr You’re my favorite atheist too… Git um! Bastards!

God said to be “fishers of men” which might imply something more along the lines of casting a line and waiting for something to bite than throwing a rock at anything that swims by and banging it over the head where it lives.

You have to live there… Don’t let that garbage happen. You pay rent for pet’s sake!

Seek's avatar

@CWOTUS Then, do you advise against it? Should I continue to sow the seeds of doubt in the minor followers that approach me, instead of confronting the general in his own camp?

GabrielsLamb's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr But then again… I battle everything so… That’s just me.

jaytkay's avatar

Hmmm. What is effective. If the goal is weaning people away from the church, then presenting a respectable alternative is sufficient. Plant a seed. Be subtle.

If you want to win a night’s debate, all’s fair.

What is the goal?

Seek's avatar

I think the biggest thing I’m afraid of is the pastor deciding not to send people round to my building anymore. Then I’d lose my weekly discussion.

However, winning a battle against the clergy would be a huge ego boost. And my ego is pretty tiny these days.

Oh, decisions, decisions. This is why I bring these things up with you people. ^_^ Make my decisions for me, dear friends of mine!

GabrielsLamb's avatar

Maybe you can ask the parishoners to leave the pastor behind? Tell him HE isn’t welcome, then maybe you can have nice discussions with nice Christians that don’t want to convert everything that can’t get away form them.

wundayatta's avatar

Do it if you enjoy it. Do it for the joy of the discussion. Don’ tdo it if you think you’re going to convert someone or fight the fight truth, justice and the atheist way.

If you do it, be relaxed. You aren’t there to win. Just to have some fun discussing things. Maybe even learn something. But nothing is at stake, really. The pastor already cut his deal with the devil. He can’t get free of it. His life would be forfeit. But meet him. Have a cup of tea. Have a discussion. Go home. Hopefully he will be interesting.

The intellectual fight just isn’t there. You can’t fight knowledge that is internally generated with knowledge that is externally generated. Two completely different ways of generating knowledge and if people believe that internal is the same as external, then there is no real communication.

Seek's avatar

Well, it’s the parishoners that are knocking on my door every Thursday, ill prepared though they may be. They’re more than willing to convert, they just don’t have the tools to carry a discussion.

I guess I’m hoping the pastor will be a challenge. Something to stretch the ol’ noodle.

jaytkay's avatar

This is really interesting now, what is the goal and how to achieve it?

Apologies if I am wrong, but I do not thing this has been defined.

Jeruba's avatar

I wouldn’t. You’re not going to meet open-mindedness. You’re their tough nut, and they want to crack you. I’m sure they won’t. But practicing on you is going to teach them how to defeat someone who’s not as tough as you. I would not be of a mind to provide them with free training to use against a weaker sister or brother..

Seek's avatar

I’m not sure there is a goal.

My current place in life leaves me kind of hungry for human contact. I’m a homemaker with no family and my friends live pretty far away. Most of my daily conversation comes from my 3 year old son. I look forward to the prosletyzers because it gives me hope of an interpersonal debate, and it’s usually disappointing, because, well, most of the time they’re reading cue-cards with things like “Has anyone ever told you Jesus loves you?” and “If you died now, are you 100% certain you’d go to Heaven?”

If I’m going to argue, I want to argue with someone who, well, has an argument.

So the goal is more my own personal entertainment value more than anything else.

However, @Jeruba brings up an excellent point. It would amount to free training.

Blackberry's avatar

You should accept the challenge, but don’t get molested.

Actually, I agree with Jeruba on second thought.

fundevogel's avatar

I sparred with a bunch of Jo Hos for a while, and I know what you mean about the sort of satisfaction that can be found in a one-on-one debate. If you’re going to get something out of the exchange I say go for it.

I think I chatted with my Mormon almost ten times before they decided they’d had enough of me. I figured the time they spent trying to convert me was time they weren’t spending on people with less expertise than I.

fundevogel's avatar

Whoops. I was right the first time. Jo Hos, not Mormons. I only know ex-Mormons. They are all awesome.

Seek's avatar

Current mormons scare me. They’re stalk-y and show up in the middle of the night asking for obscure family members.

fundevogel's avatar

I suspect that’s why I only know ex-Mormons. The rest of them weird enough to always ensure a steady stream of defectors.

mazingerz88's avatar

Flip a coin. Hee hee. Heads you do it, tails you don’t. If the coin lands standing on solid floor or does not fall at all, convert! Lol.

ragingloli's avatar

A seasoned internet atheist has heard all the arguments and their refutations. That pastor will not have anything that you have not already heard.
Should be a piece of cake for you.

XOIIO's avatar

Even better, paint a pentagram on on your face and palms, and start yelling curses at them as they walk by.

dappled_leaves's avatar

You go, girl!

Blackberry's avatar

@ragingloli We really have heard it all the internet, a lot of these things would never come up anywhere else it seems.

Rarebear's avatar

Just to be contrary I’d say no and don’t waste your time. You’re not going to change his mind and he’s not going to change yours.

Only go for your own entertainment.

6rant6's avatar

I wouldn’t think it worth your time. No logic on your part is going to dislodge anyone arguing from a position of faith. In fact I’ll lay you three to one that he (and anyone who accompanies him) sees the “debate” as a clear win for him.

And I think it that will be very frustrating for you.

Might get a pit bull, though.

DominicX's avatar

As others have said, if the goal is to change someone’s mind, that’s probably not going to happen, but if the goal is simply debate and enrichment of positions and arguments (it happens), then why not? I hardly ever get to debate important topics in real life, so I’d take the opportunity, not thinking that changing the person’s mind was the goal.

augustlan's avatar

I would totally pay to see this debate in person.

As others have said, you have to know going in that you can’t ‘win’. If you just want to do it for entertainment and keeping your mind sharp, then go right ahead. You’ll be awesome, I know.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Qill this be televised? You can certainly hold your own but what will you gain by it?
It’s like arguing with a Flat Earther. Unless you have others on your side who can watch and learn from you, I wouldn’t waste my time.

My dad told me “Only a fool argues with a fool.”

JLeslie's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr If your goal is to sway people away from their prosthelitizing or an extreme belief system, I agree the young ones and new converts are the easier to sway. You can’t go in with the goal of changing the clergy’s mind, that’s for sure, but I assume the debate will be witnessed by followers, and you will still possibly reach them. However, do you think a debate on creation and evolution would sway anyone away from their religious beliefs? Or, what is your goal anyway? Just to debate? That would be very interesting I think, just like it interests me here on fluther.

I would keep the vocabularly on their level, speak to that audience. It is the advice I give always, but especially in this political climate of the educated elite being characterized as antireligion you might be dismissed out of hand.

fundevogel's avatar

I have to say when I initially read “reductio ad absurdum” in my head it was being said by Harry Potter with an accompanying swish of his wand.

flutherother's avatar

It sounds like it could be fun. I would go for it, but remember the saying ‘if you sup with the Devil use a long spoon.”

mattbrowne's avatar

I’ve been thinking about this problem for years. And because I’m a strong science advocate I’ve been using the “battle” approach fairly often. Until I realized that it doesn’t work. In most cases it’s even counterproductive. At some point I realized that as an explorer I was using the wrong question. I was always asking: What is wrong about the yec-mindset? Yet a far more helpful question is this: What is right about the yec-mindset? Which is related to questions like: How does a creationist feel about the modern world? What needs does he or she have that are not met by the modern world?

If this gentleman (and his pastor) get the impression that you really try to understand them and care about their emotional needs, they might be more willing to listen to your needs and your view of the world. It might even turn out that some of your needs and their needs are the same. Because they are universal human needs. At this point the exchange of logical arguments might get a lot easier. Because a deeper relationship has been established first.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@mattbrowne I’m not sure I understand why a YEC necessarily feels uncomfortable with the modern world. It’s what happened in the past that we can’t agree on. There’s nothing particularly “unmodern” about the YECs I’ve known.

Blackberry's avatar

@mattbrowne I understand what you mean, but in this case, what mutual understanding could they possibly come to together?

CWOTUS's avatar


“It’s a nice day out today.”
“That was a good breakfast.”

and move on from there.

jaytkay's avatar

Pondering this some more, I picture a friendly debate as entertaining for all, if there is a mutual agreement beforehand to make the event pleasant and fun.

The vibe could be “we two together are putting on a show for you audience members” as opposed to “we church and pastor vs. the outsider”.

Update: Re-reading the question I guess the idea is not a public debate, so maybe my idea does not apply.

Seek's avatar


Since the ultimate goal is nothing more than my own entertainment and (hopefully) intellectually stimulating conversation, I think the next time my husband has a Sunday morning open I’ll “audit” a service. I haven’t attended a religious institution since my deconversion, so if nothing else it’ll be interesting to view a church service as an outsider.

We’ll see where it goes from there. If I’m invited to chat with the clergy, cool. If not, maybe I’ll get to sow some discord among the skinny, weak members of the herd. Metaphorically, of course.

XOIIO's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr You can’t have an intelectually stimulating conversation with a pastor.

Seek's avatar

Well, one can hope. One does not become a successful charismatic leader without being able to twist untruths in creative ways. And if nothing else, it will give me a valuable lesson in controlling my temper, and my urge to laugh at absurdity.

CWOTUS's avatar

Whatever else you do, you should never stop laughing at absurdity.

XOIIO's avatar


Seek's avatar


wundayatta's avatar

Let me second what @CWOTUS says. Taking yourself seriously is dangerous. Of course, it’s hard to remember this when you get caught up in a debate and things start to get personal. Why, even I have been known to get too personally involved in debates, on occasion. I forget that people are fallible and do have the ability to learn. For some, it is harder than others.

This is particularly true in religious beliefs because there is so much more tied up with beliefs than any logical or scientific understanding. It is very much emotional and it can feel like your life depends on it. And in many cases, their lives do depend on it, psychologically speaking. So giving up their beliefs is like losing their lives. Be careful about what you do because I doubt if you want to do that.

I would not say religion is the opiate of the masses. More like the Ibuprofen of the masses. People could turn to alcohol or pot, but religion also does the trick for many, so long as they do not question it too closely. Some need to be very defensive about it—so much so, that I think they are trying to keep themselves from questioning.

JLeslie's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr Sounds good. Let us know how it goes.

mattbrowne's avatar

@dappled_leaves – Well, one reason are the ever-changing views of the world. This creates a desire for stability and the declaration of unchanging truths. Yet appreciating this desire does not mean supporting non-changing world views.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Blackberry – The mutual understanding of fear, perhaps. We science people might fear the demolition of modern world views and a trend of going back to medieval superstition and witch hunts (already visible in the form of homophobia for example). And the YEC people might fear the demolition of religion and spirituality they really treasure.

mattbrowne's avatar

@XOIIO – One can’t have an intellectually stimulating conversation with a pastor? Is your conclusion based on empirical or anecdotal evidence?

mattbrowne's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr – One other idea came to mind: You could ask the pastor whether he thinks that snakes can talk? I mean really talk. I’m curious about his answer.

fundevogel's avatar

@mattbrowne I bet the answer to that goes something like, ”Before the fall…”

Fundamentalists are really good at inventing reasons why mythic happenings used to be not only possible but common place. I’ve seen people claim “the firmament” is why people in the old testament lived so long. Clearly these people had the most tenuous understanding of what the firmament was. The alternative, that they actually understand the ancient model of the universe AND they believe it, is too horrible to contemplate.

CWOTUS's avatar

@fundevogel maybe we should all be including firmament in our diets instead of fiber.

Seek's avatar

That sounds binding. No thanks

@fundevogel You have no idea. I actually know people alive today, who are otherwise completely functioning human beings, that actually believe anti-God scientists conspired to create the Hubble photographs in order to undermine the Creation story. The fact that they also believe the moon landing actually took place because they saw it on television (presumably before God decided all TV watchers will burn in eternal hellfire) is the least of their inconsistencies.

fundevogel's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr It’s hard to say if that’s a staggering example disinformation and reeducation or an honest to god delusion. I’m not even sure which would be better.

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