How to respond in debate with atheist?

I was accosted today at school with an convert from Catholicism to atheism. He wished to debate, and I took a stab at it. He asked for the scientific evidence. I tried to argue that the burden of proof was on him. I didn’t mention Eucharistic Miracles, the Resurrection, the Marian and Jesus apparitions; but weakly argued, “Who caused the Big Bang,” when he asked how I could believe in God in light of that; to which he responded with “a single cell.”

I then had to leave. What could I have done better? What should I say if he asks to debate again? He is obviously burning with zeal after his conversion, and I am going through a doubter’s phase, my energy for the rediscovered Faith having died off a bit.

If you want to use the Big Bang as ammunition, then remember that the laws of physics state that neither energy or matter can be either created or destroyed. So where did that matter and energy come from?

Why would you want to engage in a debate with this person? It is of no utility to him and it seems harmful to you.

Unfortunately there is no simple scientific evidence that will support either his or your position…

“When you can snatch the atom from my palm, then you will be ready to debate grasshopper”

Then walk away! Athiests will always require proof, Religious need only faith!

What did he mean by “a single cell”? If he meant a biological cell, nonliving matter and energy existed long before life. The question is where the matter and energy came from. Also, before debating the existence of God, ask him what he thinks we mean by God. If you wish to continue to debate him, you need guys need to establish a common definition of the thing being debated. He may have just a caricature of our beliefs in his mind.

Let me tell you a story. Last week my classics professor said that Judeo-Christians believe that there is “some guy with a beard out there that dispenses justice.” Do I let that bother me? No. Because that is not the God I believe in, only a gross caricature. Well, actually I was kind of bothered that an otherwise brilliant man would make such a broad, uneducated statement. Well, I guess everyone has something to learn.

But anyway, remember to always define the terms when engaging in a debate. In fact, there was a article on the Catholic Answers blog once on common logical fallacies to look out for. You can check that out if you want.

This very web site has a great video of a debate between Catholic Answers apologist and author Trent Horn against Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. You can watch it for free. Might give you some good insights. I know it really helped me.

I recommend Mere Christianity by CS Lewis

Please consider what the point is in debating him. The goal should be to find a common ground of truth. If you are engaging someone outside of the faith, I find it helpful to first listen carefully to them. Listen to their point of view. Listen to what they are trying to convince you of. If you have some experience with these things, they will often tell you exactly where they are in need of guidance, exactly where they are struggling. Most often, they have simple misconceptions that can be easily cleared up, but you have to listen to them.

When it comes to demanding proof, you might want to have him describe what kind of things he would consider as proof. Just the act of him sorting out in his own mind what kind of proof he could imagine for a transcendental being might begin to at least get him to start thinking that proof is impossible on his own in the way he is thinking. I once had an atheist tell me he would believe in God if he would produce a bucket of fried chicken.

The actual proof of God is the causal argument. God is the first cause. Then there is Jesus. Then there is your own personal encounter with God. Taken together, it turns out that we have more confidence in God than anything else actually. But he never produced that bucket of chicken like we wanted him to.

Tell him you are learning about your faith and there are questions that he will ask for which you will have no answer at this time. It’s OK to,say: ‘I don’t know’.

“For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.”

If he really was a Catholic, he probably in all likely hood was baptized. That will always be there even though he tries to bury all effects of that sacrament. God is still trying to draw him back :slight_smile:

You asked a good question. As for his answer, you can ask, who caused that single cell?

discussions on Infinite regression, always comes down to the first cause of everything that is.

At best he can only guess.

NASA says the universe is 13.7 billion yrs old +/- 2%.

Okay, let’s go with that. Does that mean 14 billion years ago there was nothing?

The question then is, How does nothing produce something?

If he wants scientific evidence, show him the bible. It is a set of historical eyewitness accounts that Jesus was raised from the dead. The eyewitnesses were there - your friend wasn’t. And point out that the bible is accepted by scholars in the top universities such as Harvard and Yale as being authentic and is studied as a historical document.

Then ask him if he demands scientific evidence so much, how come he believes that humans and apes evolved from a common ancestor …even though the “common ancestor” doesn’t exist anywhere in the fossil record.

How come he is happy to believe in the common ancestor even though there is no scientific evidence it exists. And don’t let him show you “Lucy”. That’s not a common ancestor. That’s an extinct species of monkey. Evolutionists claim humans and Lucy both evolved from a common ancestor, not that we evolved directly from Lucy. Ask him to show you this common ancestor.

It doesn’t matter whether you believe in evolution or creation, just point out how he accepts one thing without scientific evidence, but demands it from another. Point out his inconsistency and ask him why he does this. Turn the tables on him.

Seems apt that you two met!

One wants ‘proof’ to justify his decision regarding his faith, the other (you) ‘struggling’ in the faith you hold,

From here, it looks like opportunity presentia.


You might consider this approach.

The realm of natural science is the material world. The realm of God is the spiritual world. Personally, I would respect the world view of the atheist. However, if he wants evidence for God, he needs to “visit” the spiritual world.

There is a human inherent sense of the super-natural or spiritual world which has existed since the dawn of history. The ancient myths or legends, the Greek and Roman gods, the Shaman and the Medicine Man – all this attests to the inherent sense of the super-natural aka the spiritual world. This sense of the super-natural is not always a good thing. Consider human sacrifice in the Aztec culture.

While many cultures paid tribute to multiple gods, the descendants of Adam and Eve worshiped “One Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth.” Naturally, the atheist would immediately pounce on the idea of a real Adam and Eve. No need to get into that argument. Some human’s inherent sense for the super-natural apparently decided that One God was a good idea. And lots of people agreed.

What I am trying to explain is that the evidence for God’s existence does not have to come from the material world of science. The evidence is deep within human nature. There is this human intuitive sense, a gut feeling, that there is something out there, something beyond their own decomposing anatomy.

Note: We cannot say that every single human is awake to the presence of the super-natural. Sometimes there are natural reasons for not exploring the concept of the spiritual world. On the other hand, going back to the first human societies and continuing to today, there is plenty of human evidence that humankind knows something super-natural exists in a spiritual world. You can give that something the name of God.

This is all good advise I’d encourage you to let it go, if he is reasonable he will too.

Bringing up 2,000 year old “eyewitness accounts” is not going to end well for you. And were you there when they crucified my lord?

I wonder what other things liberal collage professors believe.

That common ancestor lived billions of years ago so its impossible to find.

But tell me more about how we all are from two people…who’s children had sex with each other, to form all the different races on Earth.

The vast majority of life on Earth has DNA.

But Upgrade25 is the one making a clam so the burden of proof lies on him…not being able to disprove something doesn’t prove it. For example, I’m Abraham Lincoln writing this in 1850. Prove me wrong. You can’t? I must be right then!

Where did God come from?

IN the end, there can be no scientific evidence that the nature of our world goes beyond what is included in scientific measurements.
Science limits itself to what is seen, and faith starts from the premise that we ought not set limits on the world according to what we know. It is simple logic that a universe that approaches infinity will always be, by its very nature, immeasurably more vast than what will ever be known.
Faith begins with the full acceptance that the ultimate essence of our existence is Mystery, and, on faith alone, chooses to believe that the highest essence of our existence glorifies in the goodness, which reigns supreme. If nothing else this is an heuristic and a pragmatic approach to living in a world whose ultimate nature is mystery. It fosters attitudes of hope and positivity and meaning and purpose. Believing in the goodness of the Sovereign of the universe lays us out on a path of aiming to realize that goodness and be the goodness of God in our own life journey.

There is no scientific reason based on the evidence that one might not approach the nature of our world as if it was ultimately evil either, or as if it were totally impersonal and indifferent. The scientific evidence in any of these possible cases is lacking.

The very pragmatic and heuristic reason why a person of faith ought not to believe in either of these two latter scenarios is that they would not logically produce the same results of hope sustained by a belief that our existence is ultimately and inherently meaningful and that the purpose of our existence is ultimately good. Belling in the ultimate evil of the universe, or in its indifference takes us on a lesser and an inferior path.

That of course is not proof. Humility accepts that no ultimate proof is ever going to be forthcoming. Infinity minus one will always be beyond our ability to measure anyway.

So it all comes down to a choice between lives based in faith of the ultimate goodness or our existence, or faithlessness that the nature of the universe is anything but cold and indifferent and ultimately unaware of our existence in the first place.

And, to live the faith is to experience God. That is the only proof of God that there ever will be.

The burden of proof is always on the person making the positive claim. IE: “I saw bob yesterday.” means that I have to produce evidence that I actually saw bob yesterday otherwise the default position to this statement is disbelief. If someone does not believe that I saw bob yesterday, they do not have to produce proof that I did not actually see bob yesterday. So if you claim that there is something in reality that you believe is there, it is on you to produce that evidence.

Also, any conclusion argued without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. To argue with a philosophical naturalist, (I’m assuming he was.) then you can only go as far as you can in reality until you reach the start of the big bang. What happened before that is just a big “I don’t know.” and any claims to know what is after that point is unjustified to a philosophical naturalist.

So as a philosophical naturalist, I use the reference point of reality to ground my application of logical conclusions because no mater how logically correct I believe an idea to be, I can still be logically correct but factually wrong because of how woefully ignorant of reality I am. A1=A2 only if all I know about A1 is 4 things and A2 is the same 4 things. But then after studying A1 some more, with better instruments and new knowledge, I learn that A1 has 6 things, I have to readjust my understanding of reality. See…originally logically correct, but factually wrong. I do not go into absolute knowledge about reality as my bar because I can only react to the reality I interact with. There could be a meteor hurtling to the earth, but since I have no way of knowing this at the moment, I do not live my life as if it is actually there. Also if all I can tell about something is the inference of it through logical conclusions about its affect on reality, then all I am able to do is describe that process and leave it as an idea to discuss, but not something to live my life by that that object is actually there until I can falsify my hypothesis about it. That’s where you get justified belief about an idea that is only detectable through an indirect way. For example, gravity waves. Einstein calculated that they should be a part of reality, but we were not justified in teaching that they are part of reality only through mathematical logical conclusions. We had to run the test last year. Not until we ran the falsifiable test last year and actually detected the gravity waves did we feel justified in teaching that they are actually part of reality. Logical conclusions alone, is not enough to justify changing our paradigm about reality for a philosophical naturalist. Logical conclusions about the supernatural are not enough to conclude that it is there until you can run the tests to see if its there or not or manifesting in reality in some detectable way. The scientific process is the best philosophical method we all have come up with for determining if something happened in reality or not. It’s self correcting and helps remove conformation bias. Its better to learn what reality actually is than what we wish it was like.

FYI - As an atheist, atheism is the response to a single question. Have you been convinced that the supernatural exists? Not that you know the supernatural does not exist, only that you’ve yet to be convinced on that question that supernatural exists. Once the level of evidence is reached and the understanding of that evidence is reached, then someone would change their position on this question. What ever thought process you used to come to this preliminary conclusion is what you use to analyze reality through. Then you apply your world view to come to an application about the conclusions you’ve reached.

I don’t think you should feel obligated to learn apologetics, nor do you need to engage in debates with atheists.

Still, if it interests you, you could study the classical philosophers and their arguments. Ultimately, the one thing many “common/pop” atheists shrug off is that they take their epistemology and ontology for granted, if they even think about it at all, without even considering the intellectual consequences of doing so. For someone to state that reality is intelligible (maybe not to our brains, but still intelligible in itself) and that everything must be proven and presented as evidence, but then fail to appreciate that as the metaphysical assumption they’re making and the implications… (don’t get me wrong, I agree 100% that reality is intelligible and such, but it’s the very fact that it is intelligible that leads to knowledge of God, and to deny that, as a consequence (not spelling it all out here) leads to an irrational, unintelligible universe, in which case insisting that everything must be presented with evidence becomes contradictory). Ultimately, an intelligible reality in which evidence can be presented and rational arguments can be made requires an unmoved mover, prime mover, necessary being… an ultimate reality that is the foundation and wellspring of all existence, which is what we call God.

You can’t just say that to an atheist though and expect to win a debate. You’d have to study and “practice” making the arguments. And if that’s not of interest to you, you shouldn’t feel compelled to learn it. You don’t need to know those things to be a good Catholic. And of course the blunt statements made above by me are really over simplifying the situation and a bit polemical themselves.

And to be fair, some atheists are not themselves moved by pursuit of rational arguments, but may find themselves led to Christ for far more personal, emotional, loving, or simply spiritual reasons in hearing the gospel. So everything I said above is not the only road to go. People have different interests.

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