Street Epistemology Video

10 Commandments of Rational Debate

A great article:

What WORKS: Discuss Religion as you would Answer Sex Questions for a Child

Many will say that discussion of religion with religious people is “pointless” and a waste of time.  I strongly disagree.

I’ve had hundreds of face to face discussions with people of varying levels of belief, and I’ve found that the outcome is very much tied to the approach to the conversation.

If your child walks up to you with a question about sex, I certainly hope that you would not unload everything you know and have ever seen or done on that child… especially if she’s 4 years old!  That wouldn’t make sense, and you’ll certainly cause that child to never want to ask you about sex again.   Yet this is often the method that atheists use when someone says they want to talk about God.  As soon as the door is opened they unload like a dump truck with a 30 minute (or 5 page if online) sermon about everything that’s wrong with religion.

A productive discussion between two people should begin with an exploration of how much the other person knows about the subject, and what specific areas of interest they want to discuss.  The 4 year old above may have only wanted to know if boys can have babies or if it’s just girls, but since you failed to ask what part of sex she was asking about, you never actually answered her question, you grossed her out, and you alienated her.

Likewise, a religious person having a discussion with an atheist often just wants to know if you’re a reasonable, respectable person with set of moral values, even if they already know that your values may be somewhat different.  It’s not unusual at the Ask-An-Atheist booth for a religious person to walk up, look each of us in the eye, and say, “I don’t know what to ask.  What do people usually ask you?”

In my opinion, this is a best-case scenario.  A person ‘on the other side’ has opened their mind, at least for a few moments, to consider the thoughts of a group of people they’ve likely spent most of their lives opposing. Again, this is NOT the time to unload the dump truck of things you hate about religion.  If they haven’t directly asked a question, start with the things you have in common, such as “I think we both are groups of generally good people who are looking to socialize and spend time with others who are also good people.”   It’s good to emphasize early on that atheists generally strongly support separation of church and state, and that we do NOT seek to have religion banned.

Back to your child asking about sex, your answers should be more detailed as they get older, but still stay on topic.  If they’ve asked about contraception or disease prevention, answer those questions specifically succinctly, and without drama or emotion.  If a religious person asks for detail about something specific, your answer should be geared to their knowledge level as well.  Evolution, for example is a tricky question because many people from the Bible Belt have never been taught what it means, so when they say “I don’t believe in evolution”, they are repeating a phrase they’ve heard from others and they have no clue what evolution means.  I’ve even had grown adults tell me that “big bang and evolution are the same thing”.

So — when starting a religious discussion, ask questions up front that will gauge the depth of their knowledge of religion, and the area of interest that they want to discuss.  You should be about to answer any of the usual questions in 3 minutes or less.  If you ramble on, you’ll lose your listener and probably annoy them because you’re just preaching.  A conversation is an interaction, not a sermon.

Christians Caught on Video Recruiting Young Children

Our Ask-an-Atheist booth is a short walk from a set of religious booths, and on a couple of occasions we’ve had visitors from other countries express their anger that the Christian groups literally went after their young children.
Today while shooting background footage for this website, I accidentally caught these despicable people in action.

This particular “Jesus Booth” always annoys park visitors by having their staff stand in the middle of the walkway and try to force people to take their propaganda.  They do this all day, every day.

In this clip, a young boy in a red shirt is walking through the park between 2 adult males, one with a brown checkered shirt, the other man has a red shirt.

Watch the interaction.  The woman completely ignores the adults, and goes directly for the vulnerable child, handing him her literature for an organization best known for raping young boys about his age, using threats and intimidation.

No one should contact a child without a parent’s permission, EVER.



A Visit to the Ask-a-Muslim Booth

During a break today from the Ask An Atheist Booth I paid a visit to the Ask a Muslim booth, which sets up every Saturday in Balboa Park, just a short walk from our booth.

ask a muslim booth

Ask-a-Muslim Booth in Balboa Park

As you see from the photos, their booth is professionally designed with messaging clearly visible from all sides.  Inside the booth there are about 20 professionally printed publications ready to hand out.

Many visitors to the atheist booth pass by the Muslim booth first, and I’ve been told that people have stopped to ask them questions, but instead of answering questions they keep changing the subject and going into long sermons that have nothing to do with the question asked.  This seems to be a common problem when speaking to representatives of all religions… just like politicians.

I entered the booth and picked up a brochure titled “Atheism from the Islamic Perspective”.  The person behind the counter began his sermon — Allah is the one and only God.  The only truth is the word of Allah.  The Quoran is the only true book.  Allah will soon control the world, and when that happens I had better be on my knees worshiping Allah.  The usually self-aggrandizing nonsense that we get from the Christians.

I let him do his 2 minute sermon and started with my questions.

“Do you have any proof that Allah is real?”
“Yes, it is described in the holy book, the Quoran.”
“How do you know the Quoran is real”.
“Because it says so in the Quoran”.

Ask a Muslim

Ask-a-Muslim Booth in Balboa Park

Ok, we’ve completed the basic circular argument.

Since part of his spiel was a claim that Allah is all knowing and all powerful, I asked why there are so many other religions.  If an omnipotent being has total power, then all he has to do is communicate directly to each person as to the true message that he wants to give, rather than play games with thousands of religions.

He gave the same rant we hear from Christians, claiming that Allah is ‘testing everyone’, to be sure they are ‘worthy’.  I told him that makes no sense, unless Allah is evil, because Allah would know everything about everyone, the test would be a cruel game.

He repeated the same rant, word for word, so I said, “Then you agree with me — that Allah is evil and just likes to play games with people”.

He said, “As a Muslim, I cannot say that Allah is evil”, then repeated the same script about the test again, ignoring the fact that I pointed out that the test is pointless and evil.  But I’m a big struck by his wording — does it mean that he understands and agrees that his story of Allah is evil, but is not allowed to say it?”

At this point, he tells me “We are not here to discuss the philosophy of Islam.  We are here to present Islam.  Islam is perfect, it has not changed in hundreds of years.  The Quoran is perfect and has no contradictions.

I pondered reminding him that he’s standing under a sign that says “Ask a Muslim”, but decided to just continue with the questions.  He’s looking more and more uncomfortable, but I continue.

Next I asked, “What happens if I try Islam, find it to not be for me, and want to leave.  I have read that I will be killed by other Muslims.  Is that true?”
This is where some stuttering began and I noticed he didn’t want to keep eye contact.  First he said “Islam is not like Walmart.  You go to Walmart and buy a TV and return it the next day – we do not want anyone to play with Islam.  Islam is not like Walmart.”

“Fine – what if I goes into Islam for 1 year and leave.  Will I be killed?”

“If you leave Islam there will be a [meeting of the elders]* and you will be given a chance to change your mind.  You will be given a chance to do the right thing.  You will be given a chance to return to Islam.  Allah does not make a judgement on you, the [meeting of the elders]* will decide.”

“Are you talking about Sharia Law?”

He would not answer this — he repeated the last statement again, word for word.  But I’m persistent.

“Will I be killed”?

“Yes, if you do not return to Islam, a judgment will be made that you are to be killed.  And when you die you will be punished forever.”

“So fear is a big part of Islam?”

“Yes, it is.  I’m not going to sugar-coat it for you.  Fear is a part of it.”

“Well thank you for being honest about that.  The Christians make the same threat, yet deny they are using fear.”

With that, I departed and headed back to the atheist booth, Islamic brochures in hand, failing to feel even the slightest bit of fear.

* – he used a phrase that I did not understand, but seem to mean a meeting of elders.