Thursday, January 5, 2012

How to Argue with an Atheist #1 : Being Rational

This is the first of a series of blog posts I am planning that I hope will give the everyday theist the tools they need to understand the basis of atheist arguments. For fancies sake you could say that knowing the opposition is the first step to overcoming them. The definitions I anticipate responding to in the future will be underlined.

What I am proposing is a series not based on atheist premises themselves, but to present an elementary 'toolbox' that anyone who argues soundly would use. I will be focusing primarily on basic definitions and my intent is to share this information in an accessible way.

All of the definitions earmarked for future discussion are criteria for rational understanding. That is to say, most atheists (and theists) will generally agree that what I put forth here is pertinent in the formation of any sound argument. In this post I will be covering the following questions. What is it to be rational, why is it important to be rational and how can we achieve rationality?

What is it to be rational?

To be rational is to take into account what we observe about the world around us. Through the process of reasoning we can come to conclusions which reflect truth to the best of our capacity. The goal of rationality is to ensure that what we believe about the world can stand up to criticism. It is also important to rationality that our beliefs can change based on new observations, information and evidence.

It is important to someone who would consider themselves a rationalist that their 'truths' are sourced from reliable observation and information. While personal opinion is considered vital to a persons individuality, the rationalist expects that personal bias and subjectivity is taken into account but would not unreasonably influence information, public opinion or outcome. This idea can also extend to authority. A rationalist will often be sceptical.

For more understanding about what a rationalist is, please check out

Why is it important to be rational?

Being rational can be considered an important function in the success of society and culture. Decisions that are made from the best information available are generally rational and result in being the best decisions one could make under any particular related set of circumstances.

Rational thinking which is applied through systems like the scientific method have produced all of the technology and up to date information about the physical world which we have today. Without rational thinking we wouldn't solve problems, we wouldn't have TV and medical treatment would not exist.

Our rational processes also provide us direction for the future. The more questions we have answered the more seem to arise. Humanity is fluid in its experiences and keeping up with our constant change is a task available to all of us. We are always discovering challenges to overcome and interesting things to learn.

For further reading there is this very good short essay on the subject;

How can we achieve rationality?

As human beings it is standard and innate that we pick out patterns. That we would demand truth in our beliefs and that we are curious. Our education, both formal and through life experience is meant to improve these traits and tools for our own benefit.

Awareness of these human abilities is just as important as our possession of them. Our capacity to step back and observe from a hypothetical distance the things which we think and feel is vital to being successfully rational. That we can critically analyse the information we are given and the experiences we have is a true reflection of rationalist goals. Being truly rational allows us to set aside unreasonable beliefs based on conjecture and embrace real, material experiences and truth.

For a precise run through on how to know you are thinking rationally and to begin thinking more rationally check out this article.

I would really appreciate some comments below to let me know if I have left anything out or if anything needs clarifying. When it comes to casual debates, discussions and arguments. What do you generally think about the thought processes of the people you oppose?


  1. I know it's underlined and thus you'll be writing about it in more depth later. But looking at "reliable" sources makes me chuckle because I've heard theist arguments that go: "The bible is the word of god, and you can't get more reliable than that! Your book of darwin was written by a mortal man, that's so unreliable!"

    How do you argue in the face of such ... blinding foolishness?

  2. I love that you pointed this out. I will also be spending a sizable post demonstrating what 'presuppositions' are. This in conjunction with outlining what makes a 'reliable' source and how to ensure the premises an argument are true I think I will cover precisely what is wrong with the scenario you presented.

    Unfortunately most theists are foolish enough to take things they are told by authority at face value. I don't really know how to approach this. I guess you just cant get your hopes up that any one argument with a theist will really make a difference in how they think.