On dealing with "I'm not a scientist"

JonathanBC
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On dealing with "I'm not a scientist"

I just had a conversation with a Christian that finally made me realize something. Sometimes, rational thought is not at all persuasive to theists. I've known this, I have. But it has been a few months since a successful unconversion, and I'm starting to feel rusty, like nothing I do will get through.

I like to start by immediately dismissing NOMA. I have a preferred way of doing this that tells me a lot about the person I'm dealing with. I generally ask if they can conceive of any circumstance, however improbable, of losing their faith. If the answer is yes, you're good. If no, I offer what I feel as a gift. I don't mind saying I'm prepared to scientifically dismiss evolution in the case of irreducible complexity. That makes most intelligent theists lower their guard, probably because they want the conversion. Regardless, that is how this last conversation started.

His friend joined in here briefly throwing rather weak arguments at me. The metamorphosis of butterflies, how sonar evolved, how DNA can gain in information. I'm not a biologist but these are all rather basic. I answered them all, going as far as predicting a couple more questions he hadn't asked yet. He didn't buy any of it and left the conversation, but he wasn't a bright guy so it didn't bother me. I went back to the first guy.

His arguments went as follows. Atheism is a religion. Simple to deflect, stock answer, I don't have non acrobatics as a hobby, he accepted this rationally. Next question, third law! Again, simple, any atheist should be able to explain why this is a straw man within 60 seconds, which I did. Now I expected him to move on to the ontological argument, but he stopped and ended the conversation. "When it was explained to me, it made sense. I can't debate physics with you, I'm not a scientist."

Conversation terminated, no chance given to reason with him. How can you possibly get through to somebody who insists present logic must be false because of conflict with previous "logic" being weaseled through to the head? When science isn't effective, what else do we have?


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Had he been a clever theist,

Had he been a clever theist, he could, with some justification, claim that 'science is a religion'.

But it is not a religion based in fath, or submission to an imaginary construct of ideas; it is a methodical way of relating to life and this world, as we are able to observe it, much like ancient pagan systems used to be. All those myths and stories may seem ridiculous to a modern mind, but they were none the lass metaphorical ways of attempting to explain 'what is really going on' without really believing that you know this in any hard and hands-on manner. 

Skepticism only goes that far. You need some kind of map of the world to navigate it, lest it all dissolves into some kind of meta-schizophrenic mess where nothing makes any sense. This means you have to trust something. Or, if you like, believe in something. You need a system. Say for instance logic. (Which definitely is a man-made concept; perhaps something akin to an abstract infrastructure that can transport information between people.)

Science is like human mental share-ware. And it is rigorously quality-tested for objective application, it isn't just an assembly of theories. A bit of a problem is that the concepts often get muddled. For instance, people speak of technology when they really mean engineering. Technology is an abstract blueprint, a description of some kind of method, whereas engineering is the method itself, the actual creation of an object that works such as the technology is predicting that it will do. In that sense, we can call science a system of very accurate predictions.

Now... religion has some of the same aspirations. It seeks to explain life and this world as we can observe it. But it is a by far more arrogant attitude, since it begins with the assumption that it is possible to know. In a sense, religion is claiming that man has a god-nature, and that man can align with the godhead through his god-nature and thus become immortalised. That, to me, is, to put it mildly, quite a bit of a jump to premature conclusions. From what I can see, and to the best of my powers of judgement, man is closer to having a devil-nature (if we are to use that kind of imagery). It also seems to me that for all the aspirations to actualise the god-nature, all that they ever succeed in actualising is their devil-nature.

Move on to atheism. Which in its ultimate consequence is to discard the idea of man's god-nature. Whether or not there is a God up high is irrelevant. It is not within reach of what is knowable to man. So let's rather talk about what we can know. With some reasonability. With an emphasis on the world agree. In such a context we must place science. Science is knowledge of a different kind, it is knowledge that is reasonably undeniable. It deals with what we can all observe and agree on. Instead of a conversation that goes like this:

Dick: "There is a God."

Jack: "No, there isn't."

...we will rather focus on the things that none of us can deny, such as how a pebble tossed into the air will fall back to the ground. Cool! What does this mean and how can we study it? What is the nature of this force? What does it mean to me and you? We shall not be so presumptous that we will claim to know that "God made it so" and just leave it at that. We are just human, we can't know anything about God. We shall instead honour our existence by doing the best we can with what we have, without making a bunch of vast assumptions about things that are none of our business. We are of course free, all of us, to believe whatever we like in the privacy of our own thoughts, but we have no right trying to convince other people that we are "right" - unless we can produce ample objective evidence for our claims. If we can't, we shall be so polite as to admit that this is "opinion" and not fact.

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JonathanBC wrote:"When it

JonathanBC wrote:
"When it was explained to me, it made sense. I can't debate physics with you, I'm not a scientist."

Conversation terminated, no chance given to reason with him. How can you possibly get through to somebody who insists present logic must be false because of conflict with previous "logic" being weaseled through to the head? When science isn't effective, what else do we have?

Not much you can do about that. However, take heart that you've introduced cognitive dissonance to his brain. If you had a chance for a last, parting shot, you might have rubbed it in by saying something like, "Well, if you don't understand the science, then you can't claim to have scientific reasons to believe. You're just believing based on what somebody else said, not based on any actual scientific reasons."

In any case, if you ever meet him again, you have a starting point to press the issue.

"Sometimes, rational thought is not at all persuasive to theists."

In fact, I would say that it rarely is. There needs to be some element of pathos in your arguments, not just logos. They have to *feel* that there's something wrong with their beliefs, not just intellectually consider a possibility. When it gets down to it, an intellectual thought is easily paved over by simple feelings. That's really what faith is: I feel I'm right, so I'm right. His argument sounds logical and rational, but I feel I'm right, so I'm right. It is only when you can get them to admit to themselves that your side *feels* like there's something right to it, or conversely that you get them to admit that their side *feels* a bit wrong, that you'll make further progress.

This is cognitive dissonance, when an idea feels both right and wrong. It's like a mosquito in their bedroom. They can't let their minds rest until the mosquito is dead, or they leave the room. Introduce a thousand mosquitoes, and eventually they'll leave the room. Unless they have RAID, in which case, it's better to talk to someone with an open mind. Which brings me to...

"I generally ask if they can conceive of any circumstance, however improbable, of losing their faith. If the answer is yes, you're good. If no, I offer what I feel as a gift."

I think you're giving too much away here. If they admit that there's no possible way they would change their mind, they are explicitly admitting that they are closed-minded. I would directly point this out to them. If you've heard The Infidel Guy, Reggie Finley, he used to do this all the time. Basically, you say, "Would you agree that there's no point in having a discussion with someone who isn't open-minded?" Yes. "And to be open-minded means that there's a possibility that you could hear something that would change your mind, right?" Yes. "So, is there a possibility that you could hear something that would change your mind?" Welll, ... I guess. (Or, 'No, I have faith.' Then, "So you admit you're closed-minded? Thanks. That helps me avoid a useless conversation." Note that this also introduces cognitive dissonance, since few people want to admit they're closed-minded.) So, if you can get them to admit they are open-minded, you can always come back to that whenever they try to escape with their usual excuses, like the one the guy gave above. You can just say,

"Well, you claimed to be open-minded, but apparently anything I say can't possibly change your mind because you'll just go back to your pre-conceived beliefs, without considering new arguments or evidence. But that's just being closed-minded. So, were you lying when you said you were open-minded?"

It's these kinds of little emotional digs that let mosquitoes through their windows. You have to be a bit careful not to directly attack the person, of course, but focusing on what they believe and how they behave is fair game. You don't want them to get in purely-defensive mode, but if you can get them to feel that 'there's something right about what he's saying, though I'm not quite sure what', then you've introduced cognitive dissonance. The more cognitive dissonance you can introduce, the better.

When he basically ran away from the conversation, you can be guaranteed that it was because of cognitive dissonance. It was too 'Argh, my brain hurts!' for him to continue, so he ran away. But that contradiction will stick with him a few days, maybe even years. Who knows. The point is that it works.

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Do you have to know how to

Do you have to know how to build a car and every one of it's parts to the transmission to piston rings to know your car is not run by invisible hamsters and pixy dust?

I can't do a fraction to save my life now. BUT I do know from my academic history that when I followed the steps "method" properly I got the answers right. When I didn't follow the method I got the answers wrong. But in neither case did I assume any of those steps involved magical beings.

It is so idiodic that the fans of the god of Abraham readly and RIGHTFULLY dismiss Thor or Ra as being real disembodied magical beings being the cause, but somehow they magically escaped the same human flaw that lead to those prior to believe false things.

Jesus is a conglomeration of prior motifs and MAY have been inspired by an individual, but in no way would this justify bullshit claims of magical invisible god baby batter with no DNA magically knocking up a girl. Nor is there any truth that human flesh can magically have every cell in the body die, be deprived of oxygen and bloodflow, suffer brain death, have the entire body drained of blood, and magically escape rigor mortis.

BULLSHIT dressed up in a tux is still bullshit.

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natural wrote:I think you're

natural wrote:

I think you're giving too much away here. If they admit that there's no possible way they would change their mind, they are explicitly admitting that they are closed-minded. I would directly point this out to them. If you've heard The Infidel Guy, Reggie Finley, he used to do this all the time.

My problem in this comes from that, in my experience, the theists I've dealt with have a preconception of non overlapping magisteria. They don't know what that actually means, they aren't pupils of Gould, but they don't think my science is applicable to their faith. That can only be removed by showing them faith and science do overlap. Now, they won't listen to that if I say that God can, in theory, be disproven, but not what I believe (evolution, big bang, etc.) I do find that rather effective in opening minds, and planting a seed even if it doesn't take root.


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Well, I am not really

Well, I am not really getting a good picture of the theist that you are working on here. Do you seriously mean that you have people on the hook that can throw NOMA around as if it really meant something to them? Honestly, most of the theist that I tend to run into can't hold that many syllables in their head at one time.

 

Past that, I am thinking that as soon as the conversation goes to physics, then the deal is off, whatever the deal might have been. In my experience, you can score more for the open mind if you keep the conversation to religion. How you do that is probably a style issue more than anything but even so, some pointers that have worked well for me:

 

First, be prepared right from the get go to drop the conversation uncompleted. If the goal is to get someone to show a bit of doubt on something that they had previously thought to be absolute, then you need them to be left with an incomplete line of thought that they can wonder about after you are long gone.

 

Second, try to size up your victim early and work towards whatever will make an impression on them. Don't be afraid to go for the jugular if you think that you can get a kill shot but don't count on that opportunity to manifest. If all that you can get is to leave them slinking away bloodied over the matter at hand, that can be victory enough.

 

Say for example that you run into a literalist. Obviously the guy will be full of shit. However, the problem that you will run into here is that you don't know what thread on some forum they may have read. So anything that you bring up may have a stock answer. It will, of course, be wrong but it will be pure boiler plate from some web site.

 

If you get lucky, they will have a KJV handy. Go directly to Mark 16. There should be a foot note at the bottom of the page that says something to the effect of everything after 16:9 is of uncertain authority. It probably will not go into detail on the matter but one thing that is certain is that the last dozen verses were added sometime in the 10th century. That should give a literalist a moment of concern.

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I agree with you

 

I don't believe NOMA is a useful concept. To me it seems to gift religion with ownership of things that belong in the realm of provable science. Morality and ethics - maybe I'm a conceptual simpleton - but these are templates humans apply to reality. Both are contingent upon the presence of a real human brain. Spirituality is another name for tracts of land in the nebulous real estate of the human imagination. Spirituality is a hologram we conjure up in our heads.

Of course, as you say, getting the theist to turn their back on their longing for eternal life, a need driven by the groaningly deep fear of death, is another game altogether. I think science is the wrong vehicle for that job. Science is heartless and won't rock a theist to sleep in a heavenly mansion for all eternity, a gentle breeze stirring their golden hair.

I think religion serves a baser need. You can't assauge that need with repeatable experiments proving the nature of material systems.

 

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If I remember correctly,

If I remember correctly, there was some research on proving to cult members that they were wrong. It turns out that if you prove them objectively wrong, then cognitave dissonance kicks in and their faith becomes stronger. If someone is far enough gone, you could destroy every argument they made and they would be more faithful and religious in the end. The wronger you show them to be, the righter they are certain they are. Not to be a buzzkill, but you just can't win in that situation. Winning is the worst kind of losing in terms of how powerful their faith becomes.

You could hope that the cognitave dissonance causes them to seriously question their faith and not just use doublethink to avoid whatever problems they have.

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Answers in Gene Simmons

Answers in Gene Simmons wrote:

Well, I am not really getting a good picture of the theist that you are working on here. Do you seriously mean that you have people on the hook that can throw NOMA around as if it really meant something to them? Honestly, most of the theist that I tend to run into can't hold that many syllables in their head at one time.

 

Hardly, quite the opposite actually. They use the concept of NOMA without actually having ever heard the words "non overlapping magisteria." Just as I've heard people use Pascal's wager but when asked, are not aware of Blaise Pascal in the least. Some of them actually think it was their own original concept. But I digress.

I suppose you're all right, I've done all I can. That doesn't have to satisfy me but I can't let that discourage either. Plus, I don't know what has happened or will happen to them since we spoke. Maybe cognitive dissonance will stick with them and make them come around.


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JonathanBC wrote:My problem

JonathanBC wrote:

My problem in this comes from that, in my experience, the theists I've dealt with have a preconception of non overlapping magisteria. They don't know what that actually means, they aren't pupils of Gould, but they don't think my science is applicable to their faith. That can only be removed by showing them faith and science do overlap. Now, they won't listen to that if I say that God can, in theory, be disproven, but not what I believe (evolution, big bang, etc.) I do find that rather effective in opening minds, and planting a seed even if it doesn't take root.

The bolded part, I don't understand. Can you be more specific, maybe with examples?

For me, I think it is pretty simple to show that certain faith-claims are disproven by science, such as prayer. They make a prediction, the prediction fails, and that discredits their belief. That's how pragmatism works. I wrote something on pragmatism and prediction.

I haven't really had problems with NOMA for a while now, so I guess I don't quite see what the problem is. If they make any claim that can be tested, then it can be shown wrong, and they've violated NOMA on their own. If they can't, then they're obeying NOMA, but their belief is then indistinguishable from fantasy, and discredited by pragmatism (Occam's Razor). I don't see any reason to give up ground by allowing them the 'well I just have faith' card.

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natural wrote:JonathanBC

natural wrote:

JonathanBC wrote:

My problem in this comes from that, in my experience, the theists I've dealt with have a preconception of non overlapping magisteria. They don't know what that actually means, they aren't pupils of Gould, but they don't think my science is applicable to their faith. That can only be removed by showing them faith and science do overlap. Now, they won't listen to that if I say that God can, in theory, be disproven, but not what I believe (evolution, big bang, etc.) I do find that rather effective in opening minds, and planting a seed even if it doesn't take root.

The bolded part, I don't understand. Can you be more specific, maybe with examples?

For me, I think it is pretty simple to show that certain faith-claims are disproven by science, such as prayer. They make a prediction, the prediction fails, and that discredits their belief. That's how pragmatism works. I wrote something on pragmatism and prediction.

I haven't really had problems with NOMA for a while now, so I guess I don't quite see what the problem is. If they make any claim that can be tested, then it can be shown wrong, and they've violated NOMA on their own. If they can't, then they're obeying NOMA, but their belief is then indistinguishable from fantasy, and discredited by pragmatism (Occam's Razor). I don't see any reason to give up ground by allowing them the 'well I just have faith' card.

Of course, I apologize for being inarticulate. What I mean to say is this. When the concept of NOMA comes up, whether by name or by hearing it from other theists, I begin explaining my position on the things for which the theists explain as faith based. When the beginning of the universe comes up, as it generally does, or abiogenesis or evolution, I point something out. All of the "theories I "believe in" can be scientifically disproven. For example, discovery of genuine irreducible complexity would be a massive blow to evolution as the primary way life has reached its current state. While I think something like the Miller Urey experiment and subsequent tests down the line are rock solid, they could somehow become invalid. I very highly doubt this, but if we learned the early Earth atmosphere was comprised of certain other things than water, methane, ammonia, etc. the lead theory of abiogenesis would be reset 100 years.

So I point out that atheists can, and enjoy being, proven wrong. On the other hand, theism has goal lines that get farther away as we get closer. For example, fossil records and radiometric dating? Obviously God is just testing us. He can do that, you know, being omnipotent. So I'm not giving anything away that leading scientists haven't already. But I find it useful for pointing out why I can't "prove there is no God." You could accomplish the same thing by doing as suggested earlier, asking if they are open minded because otherwise they aren't worth talking to. I suppose my version is just the "good cop" half. And as I tried to say, I've had better results with this approach.

Of course abiogenesis has other theories, and just because we can't explain something now doesn't make it unknowable. I'm aware. Proving the big bang wrong does not offer proof of the supernatural, that would be non sequitur. But it would prove science is open minded. So you get the same result as saying "you're an idiot if you refuse to consider this."


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Atheistextremist wrote:I

Atheistextremist wrote:

I think religion serves a baser need. You can't assauge that need with repeatable experiments proving the nature of material systems.

 

 

Ding ding ding!

Ten points to the man with the funny hat.

In the spirit of Arthur Schopenhauer, we might say that religion is a twisted way to relate to human sexuality. One that leads them into a weird state of existential masochism. For an objective experiment on the validity of this claim, try interviewing a religious nutter about his - or, indeed, her - ideas about this issue. Chances are that you will uncover a psychological complex which is rooted in feelings of guilt, shame and fear; specifically related to the concept of "sin". Which, of course, is why nobody should be surprised at any time when they uncover domestic abuse and child molestation within religious circles. For you cannot escape these feelings and urges, you can only repress them for a period of time which then is followed by an explosion of perversity. For this, they collect and store even more guilt and shame, seeking to be "punished" and/or "absolved" by the grace of God. A classic vicious circle.

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JonathanBC wrote:Sometimes,

JonathanBC wrote:

Sometimes, rational thought is not at all persuasive to theists. I've known this, I have. But it has been a few months since a successful unconversion, and I'm starting to feel rusty, like nothing I do will get through.

I like to start by immediately dismissing NOMA. I have a preferred way of doing this that tells me a lot about the person I'm dealing with. I generally ask if they can conceive of any circumstance, however improbable, of losing their faith. If the answer is yes, you're good. If no, I offer what I feel as a gift. I don't mind saying I'm prepared to scientifically dismiss evolution in the case of irreducible complexity. That makes most intelligent theists lower their guard, probably because they want the conversion. Regardless, that is how this last conversation started.

His friend joined in here briefly throwing rather weak arguments at me. The metamorphosis of butterflies, how sonar evolved, how DNA can gain in information. I'm not a biologist but these are all rather basic. I answered them all, going as far as predicting a couple more questions he hadn't asked yet. He didn't buy any of it and left the conversation, but he wasn't a bright guy so it didn't bother me. I went back to the first guy.

His arguments went as follows. Atheism is a religion. Simple to deflect, stock answer, I don't have non acrobatics as a hobby, he accepted this rationally. Next question, third law! Again, simple, any atheist should be able to explain why this is a straw man within 60 seconds, which I did. Now I expected him to move on to the ontological argument, but he stopped and ended the conversation. "When it was explained to me, it made sense. I can't debate physics with you, I'm not a scientist."

Conversation terminated, no chance given to reason with him. How can you possibly get through to somebody who insists present logic must be false because of conflict with previous "logic" being weaseled through to the head? When science isn't effective, what else do we have?

 

Welcome to the club, get to the back of the line like everyone else, you aren't all that alone in this regard, et cetera. I tried quite a bit of this as a teenager. I gave up, after feeling like I was pushing against a tidal wave of pseudo-intellectual angst for YEARS... then I stopped giving much of a f*ck what anyone else believed except myself, naturally.

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Marquis wrote:Had he been a

Marquis wrote:

Had he been a clever theist, he could, with some justification, claim that 'science is a religion'.

... an imaginary construct of ideas;...

 

 

Nonsense. Some of humankind's BEST scientific theories were developed as a part of "imaginary constructs", and proven without a great deal of effort.

“A meritocratic society is one in which inequalities of wealth and social position solely reflect the unequal distribution of merit or skills amongst human beings, or are based upon factors beyond human control, for example luck or chance. Such a society is socially just because individuals are judged not by their gender, the colour of their skin or their religion, but according to their talents and willingness to work, or on what Martin Luther King called 'the content of their character'. By extension, social equality is unjust because it treats unequal individuals equally.” "Political Ideologies" by Andrew Heywood (2003)


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Kapkao wrote:Some of

Kapkao wrote:
Some of humankind's BEST scientific theories

 

Oh really? Which ones?


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JonathanBC wrote:But I find

JonathanBC wrote:
But I find it useful for pointing out why I can't "prove there is no God." You could accomplish the same thing by doing as suggested earlier, asking if they are open minded because otherwise they aren't worth talking to. I suppose my version is just the "good cop" half. And as I tried to say, I've had better results with this approach.

Okay, I think I sort of understand now. Not sure, though.

I may not be able to address your specific issue you're asking about, but I'll just say that it sounds to me like extra work and likely to end up on detours and goose chases. If it works for you, great. But you did mention that you hit a snag with this person who just pulled away as if your argument was meaningless due to his already being convinced by another person's pseudoscience.

Personally, I think I would step outside of the paradigm of science at that point and go with a more basic pragmatic argument. My central question would be, "Well, how do you really know that?" and variations on that theme. It's not my job to 'disprove' god. They're the ones making the claim. Either they know the truth and can demonstrate it, or they don't know it and are just performing wishful thinking and self-deception. Science is only applicable if you accept the validity of the scientific method. If they don't, then getting caught up in discussions of science and/or philosophy of science (NOMA, falsifiability) seems like a detour to me. This guy didn't seem to actually accept science; he was just trying to make a convincing argument from authority, by appealing to what he perceives as your authority, namely science. If he accepted science, I don't think he would have run away like he did.

I would establish that the only way we can be sure of knowing anything is by being able to test predictions, and that's just simple pragmatism that everybody uses every day of their lives. "So, theist, show me what you got. Can you make reliable, accurate predictions, or do you only have anecdotes and faith claims?" If the latter, then why don't they accept the anecdotes and faith claims of Muslims, Hindus, etc.? Hint for the theist: Because anecdotes and faith claims are pragmatically unreliable, as they well know.

I would talk about intellectual honesty, especially being honest with oneself (that they don't really know what they claim to know). I would talk about the imperfections and flaws of human intuition, which are obvious and easily demonstrable. I would talk about self-deception and critical thinking. ...

... Etc. Very little of that needs to operate under the paradigm of science. Science is based on pragmatism, but there are many pragmatic arguments you can make that don't require defending science or apologizing for its limited scope (i.e. falsifiability requirements and methodological naturalism).

I would try to target their belief that they have 'good reasons to believe'. They don't. I would question them on what their reasons are and attack those reasons.

I usually only take the argument to science if they a) accept science as many liberal and/or moderate theists do, b) try to make actual scientific arguments in favour of their beliefs, or c) try to attack science itself. Another reason I might mention science is as a benefit of an atheistic worldview, whereby we open up greater vistas of wonder, through learning about the universe with science, than old religious myths can achieve.

But if the person is fundamentally unmoved by scientific argument, because of prior faith commitments, I would rather focus on those faith commitments than spend time defending science.

The point I would be trying to make to the theist would be, "There are no good reasons (that I know of) to believe what you believe, and if you think you have good reasons, I'm ready to show you how you're probably mistaken and deceiving yourself. Let's put your reasons to the test and see how well they stand up." If I find myself on a detour defending science, I'll notice I'm straying from my strategy, and quickly return to challenging their reasons for belief. The core challenge is, "Well, how do you really know that?"

I don't know if that's relevant to your topic/situation, so I apologize if I'm misunderstanding and missing the point. It's just how I generally approach such discussions with theists. Maybe it will be useful.

[Edit: Here's a similar article which describes how I attack faith: Wonderism vs. faith. And here's an article on how I would explain to a theist the importance of critical thinking: Why bother with critical thinking?]

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