I have a hard time engaging in ‘dialogue’ with the average Christian and there’s a bunch of reasons for that. There is, however, a primary reason that dissuades me from doing so…
When discussing anything OTHER than religion everybody is happy to agree that scientific principles should apply. In every area of life other than religion (and other superstitions of course…) the scientific method is an acceptable framework to investigate basically anything, even to fundamentally religious people.
When it comes to a person’s religious belief, for reasons which escape me, the scientific method is no longer acceptable. You’ll stake your life and the lives of you children on science in every other conceivable way but it’s no good when investigating religion…
The problem with talking to a Christian (for example) about their belief is that they start with a faulty premise. With religion, people start with the assumption or preconception that God exists and then try to support this idea, discarding any evidence to the contrary. This is called confirmation bias, “a tendency for people to favor information that confirms their preconceptions regardless of whether the evidence is true or not” (Wikipedia).
What should be done is to start from the assumption that there is no god and then one should set out to prove that there is, using empirical, verifiable evidence.
Why this is so is very obvious, to me at least, and this is where the main sticking point is for religious discussions. If you can claim anything without evidence then anything that can be claimed is true. It is illogical and… stupid. Nobody, except perhaps a deranged (religious?) person, will agree with the claim that there is a 100,000 foot cosmological llama, swimming in space, between Uranus and Neptune repeatedly singing God Save the Queen. Why? Because its freaking absurd.
If I made that claim along with, say, four or five Hubble observations clearly showing a 100,000 foot llama in the outer solar system and then two other observatories independently observe the same thing while some cosmology students calculate its orbit and then predict its position at a certain date and time, which is then verified again through observation… it’s not so absurd. Reasonable people would then be convinced that there is indeed a cosmological llama and a new field of study would be created.
The point is that the claim is not assumed to be true. It is completely reasonable to not assume it to be true. One must then apply the same rule to everything else, including the claim that a God exists.
So a reasonable conversation with a religious person then starts with: prove that (any) God exists. As an example, one might want to argue that the Bible proves that God exists. But for the Bible to even begin to be relevant, God (Yahweh, specifically) must exist (to have inspired it) but we have not shown that this is the case at all, so the Bible cannot be used as evidence (since the only authority the Bible has comes from the God who’s existence has not been established; no God, no authority, no evidence). Not, however, that a reasonable person would ever consider using the Bible as evidence for anything (have you READ it?) other than the possible historical existence of barbarians.
So the conversation goes nowhere because there is no freaking evidence for ANY god’s existence. You cannot productively discuss a religion if there is no logical way to progress from the fundamental issue around the existence or non-existence of a deity.
So, for a conversation to happen the religious person must first correct their faulty premise: that there is a God in existence at all.
Correcting this faulty premise is much akin to John Loftus’ “Outsider Test For Faith” which in essence asks a religious person to examine their own beliefs with the same skepticism that they examine the beliefs of people from other religions. There are three pertinent points that come from the Outsider Test For Faith: 1) religious people automatically assume the other person’s deity doesn’t exist, 2) religious people overwhelmingly assume the religion of the culture they were born in and 3) all religions have the same ‘evidence’ and the same problems and when evaluated objectively are found to fundamentally BE the same (and can be discarded the same).
If a religious man can assume another man’s deity doesn’t exist, he has laid the groundwork for examining his own beliefs in a similar manner; he has shown that he is capable of starting from a point of disbelief related to religion and the fact that a man is (usually) the religion of his parents explain WHY he believes what he believes in the complete absence of evidence. Children are programmed to accept the authority of their elders and if you tell a child that God exists with enough conviction, the child will believe this without evidence. This child then becomes an adult, evidence-less beliefs included.
So, why is it so hard for the religious to correct their faulty premise?
If a religious person corrects their faulty premise, the assumption that a God exists, and makes the point of departure the non-existence of God then there is no way to follow a logical path back to their religion. No religious person has, in several thousand years, adequately proven that any God exists, let alone a personally involved, loving God, something that should be trivial if that was the case. Without any God at all, what is the point of discussing anything else in any religion… unless the point is to discuss the quaint and barbaric superstitions of primitive bronze age tribes people. What IS religion without God if not a ridiculous collection of bronze age superstitions?
“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” — Christopher HitchensFollow @onefuriousllama