How to Argue with Believers and Not Get Frustrated

by Luke Muehlhauser on June 24, 2009 in General Atheism,How-To

calvin_arguing

A reader asked me,

Do you ever feel a [sense] of futility when arguing with believers? What drives you to argue as much as you do?

After giving some examples of arguing with stubborn and ignorant Christians, he concludes:

Sorry about this rant I have just been arguing with some frustrating people as of lately. Arguing with people who think they are “masters” concerning the skeptic position and “skeptic psychology” even though though they have never read a skeptic book, this drives me nuts! I am thinking in my head… damn it, please go educate yourself and read some skeptic books and a couple of logic books [while] you are at it!

How do you decide who or who not to argue with? What are your thoughts about the merits of arguing with the religious?

I have already explained Why I Write This Blog – I’m not just trying to win converts to logic and atheism, though that’s part of it.

Arguing with people can be a frustrating experience. People generally have many deeply held but poorly examined beliefs – theists and atheists alike! Most people don’t like having their beliefs challenged; it is uncomfortable for them.

One of my most fortunate developments was to enjoy having my beliefs challenged. Reading strong philosophical arguments for the existence of God – or anything else contrary to my current beliefs – is actually “mental masturbation” for me, except that challenging my beliefs not only leaves me excited but sleepy, but may actually bear fruit in my life.

Christians are especially vulnerable to holding unexamined beliefs because for them, beliefs have moral and eternal implications. A good way to make someone resistant to examining one’s beliefs is to tell them it is not only immoral to doubt God, but that doubt may usher them into a world of eternal, excruciating torture.

I argue with stubborn believers a lot, but I can’t remember the last time I was frustrated by this. When I tried to guess as to why I’m not frustrated, I came up with the following advice on how to argue with believers and not get frustrated:

  1. Lower your expectations. If you think you’re going to deconvert a believer or even change his mind about something, you need to lower your expectations. Things don’t usually work that way. I never expect to deconvert someone or change their mind about an important topic. Instead, I take a lesson from my early days as a Christian evangelist: I seek only to “plant seeds.” Back then, I planted seeds of faith in an invisible friend. Now, I plant seeds of doubt. The arguments I give are not going to impact someone in the moment, but the seeds I plant may sprout fruit sometime later. The theist may consider my arguments at another time, or remember them when confronted with something in the real world. Perhaps when visiting a hospital, he’ll think, “Isn’t it nice that God can be source of comfort for all these people? But wait – why would a loving God allow so much innocent suffering in the first place? Luke may have had a point, there.”
  2. Detach yourself from the outcome. This is useful pretty much any time – when taking exams, when picking up women, when writing an article, whenever. You need to realize that your efforts are not the only cause of a given outcome. If a theist doesn’t see the flaws in his own reasoning even when you carefully explain them, realize that there are many causes for this that are outside your control – his upbringing, his psychology, his emotions, his ignorance of science or logic, etc. Focus on what you can control: your presentation of atheism. If you gave a concise, clear, and compelling presentation of atheism then you should be proud of that. And if you did not, then you “win” anyway because you can learn from the experience. Perhaps you need to refine your argument to avoid common objections, or perhaps you need to research a particular issue more. Remember, one reason the theist didn’t change his mind may be that your arguments weren’t compelling. In this case, the theist himself, if he is trained in logic, may help to improve your own argument by pointing out flaws in your reasoning. This is a big bonus to you even though the theist did not deconvert on the spot.
  3. Value the conversation. Part of detaching from the outcome of an argument is to value the conversation for its own content, not for its result. Personally, I enjoy a good back-and-forth. I have to think on my feet and run everything through my critical thinking filter in real time. Such conversations tell you a lot about how believers think. The more you talk with believers, the more you’ll realize what their most common arguments or assertions are. Then you can tell yourself, “I should really come up with the shortest, stickiest, most persuasive rebuttal possible for that point.” You can even try different rebuttals on different people and see which ones have the best effects. Arguments about religion – regardless of their outcome – can be fascinating anthropological studies. I am often surprised by what believers really think, and how their belief structures are built. Most of them are wacky, some of them are educated and novel, and some of them are just pitifully uninformed – like the parents who threatened to call in the FBI to deal with their atheist daughter. What does it take to become that kind of person? That’s fascinating.
  4. Have fun. If it fits the situation, I try to make lots of jokes when arguing with a believer – and not always at the believer’s expense! I’ll fit in jokes about atheists and other topics, too.
  5. Respect the other person. This can be hard. How do you respect an adult with a magical invisible friend? imaginary_friendSometimes you get lucky and argue with someone who has studied logic and philosophy and has some sophisticated arguments – I don’t find it hard to respect someone like Mark Linville or Peter van Inwagen. Other times, you’ll have to remind yourself that this person is probably skilled and knowledgeable about many things – just not their own religious beliefs. Remind yourself that you have many beliefs (about morality, politics, psychology, dating, whatever) that are probably really stupid because you haven’t taken the time to study ethical philosophy, political philosophy, psychology, and the science of social dynamics. As a last resort, you can respect the person on the grounds of determinism. If you had had the same genes, the same development, the same parents and friends, the same life events – then you would have been a believer, too. The believer is a product of genes and circumstances just like you are – you just got lucky and scored some genes and circumstances that lead you to have true beliefs about a very particular subject – gods. It’s not like the believer stepped out of the causal chain, considered all the evidence, and simply chose to cling to a comforting belief in an All-Powerful Protector King. Respect that they are a product of genes and environment just like you.
  6. Be a team. Frustration comes easy when you view the believer as an opponent who refuses to go down when beaten. Not so when you view them as a partner or teammate in your search for truth. I think of an argument with a believer as a Socratic dialectic, in which the back-and-forth can help lead us to truth and clarify each other’s thinking – and that is something to which we both contribute. And if I phrase the dialogue in that way – “Well, the thing that confuses me about that is…” rather than “No, that’s a stupid argument because…” – then the ‘argument’ goes more smoothly and can indeed be transformed from a gladiatorial battle to a mutual journey for understanding. And that’s a lot less frustrating.

As you can see, these tactics will work just as well as advice for How to Argue with Atheists and Not Get Frustrated. And I think my advice is slightly better than Dave Barry’s.

But these things are easy to forget. If you find yourself getting frustrated in arguments with believers, come back to this post and read it again.

Previous post:

Next post:

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeremy Killian June 24, 2009 at 3:28 pm

This whole post reads like a “Soulwinning” tract I read as a teenager in Christian school.  Nice that it cuts both ways. :)

  (Quote)

Jeff H June 24, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Great post, but if I may add something to your last point, I would say that a good strategy is to find something that you both agree on first, and then work from there. Depending on what they believe, that might be difficult, but there is still plenty that both people agree on. One thing to ask might be something like, “Would you agree that in the case where we have a two explanations, a natural and a supernatural one, the natural one should take precedence?” Most people, I think, hold to this intuitively even if they might deny it. Just remind them of lightning and germ theory, and I think they’ll see the point. From there you can really work on what you don’t agree on, and if the conversation leads to frustration, come back to the original point and try again.
 
Just my two cents after reading a lot of Socrates. That seemed to be his general strategy.

  (Quote)

lukeprog June 24, 2009 at 4:21 pm

Yup, that’s great, Jeff!

  (Quote)

Chuck June 24, 2009 at 5:51 pm

Easier said than done when said person is your wife.

  (Quote)

Alden June 24, 2009 at 6:41 pm

Christians are especially vulnerable to holding unexamined beliefs because for them, beliefs have moral and eternal implications.

Actually, the same is true for atheists.
 

  (Quote)

Lorkas June 24, 2009 at 7:26 pm

Chuck: Easier said than done when said person is your wife

Although some things are easier done than said with your spouse.

  (Quote)

Chuck June 24, 2009 at 7:31 pm

When I was a Christian, the threat of hell felt very real. I was also married to a Christian. If I became an atheist, my marriage could very well end in divorce, and I could lose my son. For these and other reasons, I was under intense pressure only to consider evidence that would reinforce my views. Now that I am  an atheist, I am free to consider both sides. How is that the same?

  (Quote)

Dave June 24, 2009 at 9:04 pm

Luke, spot-on advice. Absolutely spot-on. Easier said than done, of course — but what part of this business isn’t?
Alden, I can imagine that there are atheists who think that their beliefs have eternal implications — I’m thinking of the new age, quasi-mystical, only-on-paper-really sort of atheist. But I can’t think of any atheist who (a) believes that he or she will be perpetually tortured for changing her metaphysical beliefs, and (b) believes that it is right and just that this should be the case.

  (Quote)

Marco June 24, 2009 at 10:57 pm

Thanks, nice list.
Problem with me having arguments though, is that the theïsts always seem to take a run for ID, trotting out such a huge number of arguments, that I just can’t be expected to confront all of these. With me the conversation stops there. When people fail to see that Mount Saint Helens does not support a young earth theory and that global warming HAS in fact been proven… well, then have nice day.  But I guess that’s just the midwest.

  (Quote)

William June 25, 2009 at 4:52 am

@ Jeremy – Very funny response. Love it.

Chuck said, “Now that I am an atheist, I am free to consider both sides.” This is a non sequitur. Atheists and Christians are both free to consider both sides. It is simply a matter of effort and desire to do so. I think that is one of the implied points of this post. Moreover, I am a Christian and I have NO fear of hell.

@ Marco – I absolutely agree that ID and global warming have very little bearing on the discussion of God’s existence. This is a strategic move that people on both sides of the debate will make (often completely unaware that they are doing so) in an effort to redirect the discussion to a topic that is more comfortable for them. Doing battle on familiar ground gives them a sense of having the “home court advantage.” I would recommend that you simply concede the point for the moment and take them back to the original topic. Then you can show them how their point has no affect on your conclusion. Once you have done this a few times they will lose interest in bringing up that topic and the discussion can move forward. Oh, and by the way, anthropogenic global warming has not been proven. I do not know how old you are, but if you live another 20 years or so I am quite certain that you will get to experience the next big “oncoming ice-age” scare. (I am not a prophet. I did not get this in a vision. And the voices in my head don’t care about the weather.)

Luke said, “. . . bear fruit in my life.” Is this a little residual Christian lingo still floating about in your head? :)

Cheers,

  (Quote)

UNRR June 25, 2009 at 5:37 am

This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 6/25/2009, at The Unreligious Right

  (Quote)

Reginald Selkirk June 25, 2009 at 6:49 am

Detach yourself from the outcome.

Now Luke, don’t go all Buddhist on us. ;>

  (Quote)

Shanti June 25, 2009 at 7:11 am

I am an atheist but, respect theist beliefs. I will not try to convince them to understand my lack of belief, all I ask is that they respect them. That is the most difficult thing to ask a theist of any denomination. I think it is impossible to even argue with a theist because of their fears, they will not even entertain the idea that god is a figment of their imagination. They will get vey defensive and try degrade your logic. they will accuse you of being ignorant of the “facts”. I personally believe they are incapabe of thinking logically.

  (Quote)

Lorkas June 25, 2009 at 8:05 am

William: “Now that I am an atheist, I am free to consider both sides.” This is a non sequitur.

Not necessarily. It’s the subjective experience of a lot of apostates, myself included. Maybe not all Christian sects are like this, but I was taught that doubts were healthy, but don’t do it too seriously.
 
In other words, you could think “maybe there is no God,” but you better just stop right there. Now that I’m an atheist, I feel a great deal more free to explore different opinions. I can really think about what the implications are if various metaphysical beliefs are true, whereas before it felt blasphemous to think things like “what would it mean if Vishnu really does exist?” or “how should I act if Shinto is the true religion?”.
 
Maybe you don’t feel that you’re in an ideological box right now, but many Christians do, so this statement is not necessarily a non sequitur. At least for me it isn’t, and for Chuck it obviously isn’t either.

  (Quote)

Marco June 25, 2009 at 8:10 am

William:
 Oh, and by the way, anthropogenic global warming has not been proven. I do not know how old you are, but if you live another 20 years or so I am quite certain that you will get to experience the next big “oncoming ice-age” scare. (I am not a prophet. I did not get this in a vision. And the voices in my head don’t care about the weather.)

I know that, and that’s not what I’m claiming.  ;-)

  (Quote)

William June 25, 2009 at 9:44 am

@ Lorkas

If by his statement Chuck is saying that he personally can not think freely unless and until he assumes the title and position of an atheist, then I will concede that this is not necessarily a non sequitur because the statement only applies to him. However, if by his statement he is implying that only an atheist is free to consider both sides, and considering the context of the discussion this is how I read his statement, then it most certainly is a non sequitur.

  (Quote)

Lorkas June 25, 2009 at 11:29 am

William: Oh, and by the way, anthropogenic global warming has not been proven.

Oh my God, William. I didn’t read the rest of your comment after the non sequitur remark, but this is incredibly ignorant. Just talk to any climatologist–the consensus that we’re causing some global warming is pretty much absolute among them, although there is some debate about how much of an effect we’re having.
 
In other words, no one who isn’t ignorant will ever say that our CO2 release doesn’t increase temperature–the only arguments are about how much we’re increasing it.

William: However, if by his statement he is implying that only an atheist is free to consider both sides, and considering the context of the discussion this is how I read his statement, then it most certainly is a non sequitur.

Well, I don’t think it just applies to him, but I also don’t think it necessarily applies to everyone. The fact of the matter is, there are no atheist heretics, while there are Christian heretics. All but the most liberal, universalist Christians believe that there are some things that you’ll be tortured forever (or at least denied eternal life in heaven) for not believing.
 
I’m totally fine if you disagree with this, but I don’t think I’ve said anything that’s out of line with the evidence. At the very least, it’s true on average that atheists are more free to consider different positions than Christians are.
 
One simple example is the existence of the historical Jesus–atheists are free to hold an opinion on either side of this question without being ostracized, but any Christian that thinks that Jesus might not have really existed will be branded a heretic.

  (Quote)

Lorkas June 25, 2009 at 11:32 am

To be sure, no educated climatologist will claim that our current warming trend is entirely (or perhaps even mostly) anthropogenic, but no educated climatologist will claim that we have no effect, either.

  (Quote)

Chuck June 25, 2009 at 11:46 am

I was replying to Alden’s comment that atheists are just as likely as Christians to holding unexamined beliefs because of eternal implications. It just isn’t so.
For an atheist–I refer only to the materialist variety common in the West–there is no danger in considering other options, because for an atheist, dead is dead. If you are wrong about souls, then you only have something to gain. On the other hand, for a fundamentalist, the very act of doubt is to risk the Fires of Hell. Yes, I was speaking generally, about fundamentalists. There are a lot them. They are on the rise.

  (Quote)

William June 25, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Lorkas: Oh my God, William. I didn’t read the rest of your comment after the non sequitur remark, but this is incredibly ignorant. Just talk to any climatologist–the consensus that we’re causing some global warming is pretty much absolute among them, although there is some debate about how much of an effect we’re having.
 
WOW!  Blasphemy and insults in the same breath.  (I know the blasphemy thing is irrelevant to you, but the allegations of ignorance on my part.  you hurt my feelings.  Not really.  How can you be so sure of my ignorance?  Maybe, just maybe, I actually know something that would make you change your mind.)
 
Well, Mr. Lorkas, I would call this “argumentum ad populam” and I will not insult you by assuming that you do not know what that means.  There are numerous climatologists who disagree with the consensus on this issue.  And, quite frankly, I do not need to ask a climatologist to interpret the data for me.  I am well capable of reading it, understanding it, and coming to what I think is a reasonable conclusion all by my self.
 
Lorkas: In other words, no one who isn’t ignorant will ever say that our CO2 release doesn’t increase temperature–the only arguments are about how much we’re increasing it.
 
Both of your claims here are patently false.
 
Lorkas: At the very least, it’s true on average that atheists are more free to consider different positions than Christians are.
 
This is silliness.  They question is not whether any particular theological position has more freedom to consider all the various arguments.  The question is whether they choose to exercise that freedom.  There are no prohibitions in Christianity to contemplating the existence of God.  There may be professing Christians who live in fear of doing so, but that’s a personal issue and has no bearing on the objective, orthodox, historic Christian faith.  Christians are just as free to consider all of the various claims about God and religion as atheists; and so are Muslims, Mormons, Buddhists, etc. for that matter.
 
Lorkas: One simple example is the existence of the historical Jesus–atheists are free to hold an opinion on either side of this question without being ostracized, but any Christian that thinks that Jesus might not have really existed will be branded a heretic.
 
I disagree.  And this is where we get at the heart of the issue.  A Christian is just as free as any other person to consider, question, doubt and study the existence of the “historical Jesus.”  It is only after they has done so and made a definitive statement about their conclusions that we as a culture label them as a Christian, heretic, or atheist.  And we label them based upon the declaration that they make about the subject matter.  Now a person may refuse to exercise their right to think out of fear of losing their chosen label, but any loss of freedom is self-imposed.
 
Let me say this again.  The simple fact of the matter is that as a Christian I am just as free to contemplate all of these matters as any atheist.  Now, I may not be as capable, but that’s another issue.  :)

  (Quote)

Jeff H June 25, 2009 at 12:53 pm

William, I think that you’re right, but with some qualifications. I don’t think there is anything in Christian belief that prohibits Christians from doubting or thinking critically about their beliefs. They are free, theologically, to do that. But I don’t think that’s what the others are talking about. Even if they’re “allowed” to do it, many Christians are not free to do it simply because they have placed such high stakes on disbelieving that the thought of doing so causes them great anxiety. We all naturally want to remove anxiety, so we cling to what is comfortable.
 
I think that it’s perfectly possible for Christians to think critically, but I think that they often have high stakes associated with it. Maybe you don’t, but many do. I was one of them, and I had to force myself to stay in that state of anxiety until I could work through it.

  (Quote)

Lorkas June 25, 2009 at 2:40 pm

William: Both of your claims here are patently false.

Well, it’s already been said that it’s not worth talking to people who deny global warming, so I’ll just mosey out. It’s absolutely not worth talking to someone who is so ignorant of the science that they deny that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas.
 
 
If you don’t deny that, then you’re just engaging in doublethink when you also claim that humans don’t affect the climate with all of our CO2 emissions.
 
If you do deny it, then you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you to do the experiments that contradict everything we know about how CO2 works in the atmosphere.
 
I’m not making a very strong claim here, all I’m saying is:
1) CO2 in the atmosphere acts as a greenhouse gas.
2) Humans release CO2.
3) Therefore, human activity leads to an increase in global average temperature.
 
These are basic observations, but notice that it doesn’t say how much we affect it. The “how much” is what’s debated, like I said before. Not the fact that we have a warming effect.
 
I’m interested to see which of those premises you deny: do you deny that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, or that human activities increase the PCO2 in the atmosphere? Either way, you’re contradicting quite a bit of science, so yes, you are being ignorant when you say that anthropogenic global warming “isn’t proven”. What I agree with you on is that there is some debate about whether it’s primarily anthropogenic or if we have a very minor effect on warming.
 
Also, I’m not arguing that global warming is true because nearly all climatologists accept the data. I’m arguing that the consensus is indicative that the data is compelling. Deferring to the experts on a complex question, such as the weather and climate patterns of the Earth, is actually quite a normal phenomenon, and I think you’ll find that you do it on nearly every bit of scientific knowledge you have.
 
I mean, did you do the experiments yourself to determine that atomic theory is the best explanation for material phenomena? For some reason, people are quite happy accepting the conclusions of scientists until those conclusions contradict a belief or a political position that they hold.
 
You’ll pardon me, I’m sure, for deferring to the experts on this question rather than listening to the unsupported assertions of a no-credential AGW denier. Who should we listen to: the experts who have dedicated their lives to studying the related phenomena, or the ignorant laymen who think that they’re perfectly qualified to look at the data and decide for themselves.
 
William, I don’t think that you appreciate just how complex weather phenomena are. Could you look at raw data and determine what the weather will be like even a few days from now? Even tomorrow? Then why do you find yourself qualified to look at raw data and project the climate decades ahead, particularly when you can’t even show an understanding of the greenhouse effect?

William: There are numerous climatologists who disagree with the consensus on this issue.

Maybe you should give some examples, so I can see what they’re actually denying. You see, I’ve had too much experience with quote-mining when dealing with pseudoscience to trust them about what they say experts say.

William: And, quite frankly, I do not need to ask a climatologist to interpret the data for me. I am well capable of reading it, understanding it, and coming to what I think is a reasonable conclusion all by my self.

Funny how people always think this about fields that they’ve never had the slightest bit of training in. I see the same thing all the time when dealing with people outside my discipline, biology. You’d be surprised how many people think themselves qualified to “look at the information themselves” when they’ve never even had a basic course in zoology or botany.
 
Pardon me for saying it, but no, you aren’t qualified to look at the data yourself and make a decision, unless you’ve been trained in the field. Do it all you like, but know that your conclusions are likely to be wrong if you don’t have that training. If you want the understanding to make sound decisions about climate phenomena, you have to put in work for it, not just hop on the Internet, read a few articles and pronounce yourself capable.
 
I guess it’s hard to appreciate that you have to work for real knowledge, if you’re used to just accepting pseudoexplanations made up by the holy men of the Ancient Near East.
 
I’ll be glad to see those articles you send me about the climatologists who deny that human activity has a positive effect on global temperatures.

  (Quote)

Lorkas June 25, 2009 at 2:49 pm

Lorkas: Well, it’s already been said that it’s not worth talking to people who deny global warming, so I’ll just mosey out. It’s absolutely not worth talking to someone who is so ignorant of the science that they deny that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas.

Whoa, obviously I changed my mind about that! I didn’t realize how much I wrote… I guess I just respond strongly to people making pronouncements from outside their field.
 
Anyway, I don’t blame you if you don’t respond to all of that, William. What I’m really interested in is:
1) Which of the premises you deny in the logic of AGW.
2) Citations to those climatologists you talked about.
 
Those are the things I’d really like to see a response on. Aside from that, rebut anything you like. I’ve obviously made this a little too personal (I experience a lot of people who overestimate their own abilities in my field, in which they have no training, to my great frustration), so I really will mosey out this time, and give you the last word on this.
 
Cheers.

  (Quote)

William June 25, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Lorkas. Wow dude.
First of all, I feel kind of bad. I am new to this whole blogging environment so I am completely ignorant of proper blog etiquette. I feel as though the two of us have hijacked Luke’s blog. AGW was not the topic, but I will respond and then I hope we can return to the original topic.

Let’s see, John Coleman (founder of the Weather Channel), Fred Singer (atmospheric physicist), John Christy (climatologist at some university in Alabama)… These are the guys that come immediately to mind, but I am absolutely positive that will find many others if you just Google it. Now let me qualify this. I have not read anything from these men in a little while, so it is entirely possible that they could have changed their minds recently and I wouldn’t want to miss quote them. However; these men are well within their field of study and they have all come out against AGW.

Lorkas the fact of the matter is this; if you honestly think that there is not a debate going on within the field of climatology over this issue, then I would have to conclude that you only get your information from the main stream media. Keep in mind; revolutions in any field always start with small communities. So it behooves us to study what they are saying before we dismiss it out of hand simply because they are non-conformists.

As for myself, I work as a research and development engineer and did my graduate work in thermodynamics and fluid dynamics. So I do understand the most of the science. I also currently do some work with finite element analysis, so this gives me some understanding of the mathematical models that are used to make climate predictions. (Have you ever followed the course of a hurricane? There are always ten or twelve different organizations that are making predictions on the storms path and these predictions are ALWAYS divergent and none of them ever get it exactly right. And all they are doing is trying to predict the path of one storm, not the course of the entire global weather system.)

Look, I understand that none of this makes me a weatherman, but I am quite capable of assessing information and coming to a well-reasoned conclusion. You shouldn’t be so quick to judge a person simply because they don’t follow the status quo. And you should never think that formal education is necessary or sufficient for a thorough understanding of a subject. Many very intelligent people have educated themselves on numerous subjects. As a matter of fact, that’s pretty much how it was done throughout most of human history.

I will give you this though. These are many ignorant people, on both sides, who throw their opinions into the evolution debate.

  (Quote)

Lorkas June 25, 2009 at 4:25 pm

After some preliminary research, it seems that John Coleman is not denying that humans have an effect on global warming. I’ll look into it more, but it looks like he’s saying that the biggest causes are natural, and the human contribution is not very big, but that doesn’t contradict what I said above.
 
Fred Singer is a kook. He doesn’t just deny that global warming is anthropogenic, he’s denying that it’s happening at all. He doesn’t even seem to be arguing that this global warming is part of a natural cycle–he’s denying that the globe is currently warming at all.
 
John Christy is quoted on Wikipedia as saying:
“It is scientifically inconceivable that after changing forests into cities, turning millions of acres into irrigated farmland, putting massive quantities of soot and dust into the air, and putting extra greenhouse gases into the air, that the natural course of climate has not changed in some way.”
 
So he’s clearly not denying AGW. It seems that only one of your examples supports the opinion you put forth (that AGW does not happen at all), and he also denies basic observation, i.e. that we are currently experiencing a warming trend.
 
Now, I’m with you that the media (and some scientists) have completely blown this out of proportion: the world isn’t ending by any means. However, it’s no better to err in the opposite direction. We are currently experiencing warming, and at least some of it is our fault, unless, as I mentioned before, you deny either 1) that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, or 2) that human activities result in a net increase in P(CO2) in the atmosphere. Do you deny either of these?

  (Quote)

Lorkas June 25, 2009 at 4:35 pm

In any case, I asked for climatologists. Here’s some more objective data about the consensus of climatologists specifically and scientists in general.
 
Notice that the highest in acceptance that humans play a role in global warming is climatologists, while the lowest two are petroleum geologists and meteorologists (go figure). In any case, 97% of climatologists who responded accept the statement above.
 
Not bad. If climatologists are proportional with the population, then there are twice as many climatoligists with a serious mental disorder than there are who don’t think that human activities contribute to warming, even if it’s just a little bit.

  (Quote)

lukeprog June 25, 2009 at 4:40 pm

William and Lorkas,

Except for the few insults about each other’s intelligence, I think you’ve both been fairly civil. I don’t mind if people discuss off-topic subjects. I was actually still a global warming skeptic until quite recently. potholer’s videos are helpful.

  (Quote)

Rick June 26, 2009 at 3:55 am

If I could make an on-topic point, I don’t usually come up against theists who really want to argue about their faith unless their evangelical or fundamentalist. Disclosure: I know a lot of evangelical theists. And quite a few fundies. My experiences may differ significantly from yours. Warning: Broad overgeneralization approaching! My experience has been that the more fanatical the person about their faith, the less logical and reasoned their arguments will be.
 
Certainly we can agree on some felt needs: We all want to live healthy, productive lives. We all want safety and well-being for our families. We all need to feel valued and respected in our professional and personal lives. And we all think we’re trying to do the right thing.
 
The conversation can proceed in any number of directions from there, but I’ve usually noticed that I can easily hold my end of the argument to show that my beliefs and stated needs are not in conflict – and indeed hold more practical potential for harmony than a random xtian belief.
 
The argument goes quite differently from the theists’ side. They usually demand people change their beliefs or lifestyle to match some stated goal of happiness that can be arrived at by following a prescribed formula, rather than engaging in critical thought and addressing the questions of life in a pragmatic, cause-and-effect way.
 
Light me up for overgeneralizing and demonizing theists, and point out exceptions and errors, please! But this has been my experience, and the best thing you can do try and figure out what they’re really trying to say. This is often times a simple, ‘I love you,’ which has led them to give you a tract and sermon.

  (Quote)

William June 26, 2009 at 8:17 am

Ok.  (Sigh) 
Luke; Please accept my apologies if I have been slinging mud all over your blog. 
And Lorkas, I sincerely apologize if you feel that I have insulted your intelligence.  That has not been my intent.  And to this point it is still not my intent.
 
In an effort to get this topic off of the table I guess that I should answer your questions a bit more directly.   
 
1.  Concerning CO2.
By definition CO2 is a greenhouse gas.  You would be justified to call me ignorant if I denied that.  But I haven’t denied that, I simply didn’t address it.  Ozone and nitrous oxide are also greenhouse gases, as well as methane and other fluorocarbons.  Also included in this category is H2O as water vapor and as a gas, which we never hear about in the media.  All of these gases make up less than 1% of our atmosphere (CO2 is about 0.04%)
 
Yes, I do believe that human activity has increased the percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere, but not nearly as much as one might think.  The human contribution to carbon in the atmosphere as CO2 is somewhere on the order of about 5%.  At least that’s what it was a few years ago when I last looked at this stuff.  So we are talking about 5% of 0.04% of our atmosphere.  So the amount of the atmosphere that we are affecting is about 0.002%.  I am of the opinion that the system in question is robust enough to accommodate this interference.
 
2.  Concerning the temperature.
I do not believe that CO2, or any of the other greenhouse gases, is the driving force behind earth’s temperature.  Solar activity plays a much more significant role, as well as cloud cover, H2O in the form of atmospheric gas, and the mass of the earth itself; especially its water mass. 
 
Actually, I think there is sufficient evidence to make the claim that the ocean’s temperature and its ability to absorb CO2 can actually drive the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, but when I last looked at this topic several years ago there were still many unanswered questions.   Has the temperature been a bit hot over the past ten years or so?  Yes.  But it is well within the natural cycle for the earth.  Temperatures have been warmer and cooler in recent history.  In fact, we just experienced one of the coldest winters in decades.
 
3.  Concerning climatology.
Their methods for predicting the weather are very similar to many other scientific disciplines that are heavily math dependent.  Regardless of how big or fast the computer is, if the simulation model is deficient then so is the outcome.  To get this right they must know all of the factors affecting our weather, specifically how each of those factors interact with one another, and they must know exactly what the initially conditions are when they start their calculations.  This is very similar to the computational fluid dynamics that I deal with at work.  We must be able to very accurately define the boundary conditions, the initials conditions and the driving equations or the results will be compromised.  The solutions are so unstable that the slightest perturbation can throw the entire solution off.
 
Now compare that to modern ballistics.  Our military can place an artillery shell pretty much where they want it.  When they run a simulation to determine the point of impact they will hit that point in real tests with very high accuracy and precision. That’s because we have a much better understanding of the physics involved.  Furthermore, physicists all over the world can run the same simulations and come to similar conclusions.
 
Now back to our weather.  As I said in an earlier post, the fact that so many experts arrive at such divergent conclusions about something like the path of a hurricane leads me to believe that a lot of work is left to be done in this field of science.  When their simulations start to predict these patterns with greater accuracy, precision, and repeatability, then I will begin to consider seriously their claims about global weather patterns over the next 100 years. 
 
I am not saying that you shouldn’t pay any attention to the local weather forecast.  That is a different story.  It is much easier to make fairly accurate predictions about local weather conditions for a short forecast; however, the further into the future that we try to predict the weather the less accurate our predictions become.
 
4.  Concerning the history of media-hyped weather scares.
This is just a roller coaster of one ridiculous response after another.  Around the turn of the twentieth century newspapers were reporting the threat of a new ice age.  Then in the late 30s a meteorologist from Britain began making claims that the earth was heating up and that man’s CO2 emissions were responsible.  The media followed suit and by the 1950s newspapers were reporting that glaciers were melting away due to global warming.  Then on April 22, 1970, we celebrated the first Earth Day with much hype about the dangers of a new ice age.  There were even reputable experts who were considering ways in which we could melt the ice caps in order to reduce the earth’s overall temperature.  The current global warming phase began sometime in the late 80s or early 90s depending on which source you want to start with.
 
Today, even in the midst of all the “evidence” for global warming, we are starting to hear the fringes talk about a new ice age on the horizon.  Don’t be so quick to write these guys off as nuts.  Just recall that during the 70s we had global cooling and it was the nutty fringe that was saying we were on the verge of global warming.
 
I am sure that there are lots of reasons for all of the media activity, but regardless of the causes, I remain skeptical about the science.
 
About 4 years ago I wrote a report about the effects of the sun on the earth’s temperature for a graduate-level thermodynamics course that I was taking.  This is where most of my information is coming from, so I admit that some of it may be dated.  Maybe in the future I will return to this subject a take another look.
 
Now, concerning my references; as I said my information may be a bit dated, but these are men that come to mind because I read some of their work.  If they have changed their opinions in the past few years, well fine, so be it.  That’s their prerogative.  Your post did force me to Google all of this again and I did find a nice list on Wikipedia of scientist who deny global warming to some degree or another.  So, there are your current, up-to-date examples.
 
But I am very curious about one thing Lorkas.  Why do you call Fred Singer a kook?
Is it because he is Professor Emeritus of environmental science at the University of Virginia?  Or because he has written more than 400 peer-reviewed technical papers?  Is it because he has served as advisory editor for such scientific publications as Environmental Conservation and Environmental Geology?  Or maybe it’s because of all that crazy work he did in the 60s to establish the National Weather Bureau’s Satellite Service Center? 
 
OR do you call him a kook simply because he is a non conformist on the AGW issue?
 
I realize that this is quite lengthy, but I wanted to make my position very clear.  Please, do not feel compelled to respond to any of this except the last question.  Quite frankly the whole issue of AGW bores me.  I am much more interested in the central issue of this blog; namely, the existence of God.
 
@ Luke,
Thanks for the video links.  When I get the chance I will watch them.  And who knows, maybe they will change my mind as well.

  (Quote)

Lorkas June 26, 2009 at 9:05 am

William: OR do you call him a kook simply because he is a non conformist on the AGW issue?

I’m not gonna respond to everything, but I will answer this direct question.
 
I call him a kook because I’ve just read an essay in which he denies that warming is even occurring. This is a basic observation that he’s denying, and it doesn’t matter how credentialed you are if you’re contradicting basic observation.
 
You wouldn’t take me very seriously if you asked me about my opinion on the water cycle and I denied that evaporation occurs. It doesn’t matter if I’m the foremost expert in the field of meteorology, I would still be a kook if I denied evaporation.
 
Anyone can look at a graph and see that temperature’s rising–the real question is only how much of it is caused by humans. I don’t care what a person thinks about AGW if they deny GW in general in the face of basic observations.

  (Quote)

William June 26, 2009 at 11:30 am

Lorkas: I call him a kook because I’ve just read an essay in which he denies that warming is even occurring.

Well, I haven’t seen that essay, but if you would be kind enough to pass that information along I would like to read it. 
 
In any case, I would still give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he has good reason for his conclusions.  If out of nothing more than simple courtesy.  I disagree with Christopher Hitchens almost every time he makes a statement, but I don’t think he’s a kook.  In fact, I think he would be quite an entertaining dinner guest, even if the subject of theology were to come up.
 

  (Quote)

Fortuna June 26, 2009 at 12:28 pm

William and Lorkas, if I may contribute a couple things briefly to keep in mind;
 
Firstly, weather and climate are not the same thing. Predicting the weather and predicting climate are related but very different endeavours.
Secondly, there’s a difference between personal opinion and peer-reviewed scientific research. Meteorologists, climatologists, geologists, hippies, some dude who gave an interview to Time magazine in the 70′s; all are welcome to give their personal opinion. But what they can’t do so easily is publish actual research.
The vast majority of peer-reviewed scientific research in the field of climatology supports the notion that humans are increasing the average atmospheric temperature near the Earth’s surface. Period. What Professor Billabong from Bumbaclutch State happens to opine on the issue is irrelevant until he or she backs it up with research.
 
 

  (Quote)

exrelayman June 26, 2009 at 2:35 pm

Maybe global warming is occurring (or not), but the atmosphere in this comment thread heated up a little. I thought for a while William was  Luke acting a part to see how the methods of the post would play out among his commentors, but have changed my belief about that. Knowledge is often not so easy, nicht wahr? I hope a good time was had by all.

  (Quote)

lukeprog June 26, 2009 at 2:53 pm

exrelayman,

I haven’t been following the AGW thread much, but from your report perhaps my post on “How to Argue… and Not Get Frustrated” was not so helpful after all! :)

  (Quote)

Chuck June 26, 2009 at 6:12 pm

Arguing things in forums is nothing like arguing things in person. In forums, people often just talk past one another.

  (Quote)

Lorkas June 26, 2009 at 9:37 pm

William: Well, I haven’t seen that essay, but if you would be kind enough to pass that information along I would like to read it.

Happy to oblige.

Fred Singer: Most climatologists agree that these changes were of natural origin–although Trenberth tries to present them as of human origin. But then he claims that “global mean temperature is rising.” Not so. The weather satellite data, the only truly global data set we have, actually show a global cooling trend during the past 19 years.

  (Quote)

Michael July 1, 2009 at 7:30 pm

You can’t argue with a “believer”! Just tell them that they’re wrong, and walk away with a satified smile!

  (Quote)

Frank Wunder March 21, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Here’s a thought: who cares? I don’t and I wouldn’t waste time arguing with anyone over anything. So many better things to do.

  (Quote)

Cindy March 21, 2011 at 10:02 pm

I frustrated the atheists and proud of it. Peace

  (Quote)

alaeddin May 17, 2011 at 5:31 am

a nonbeliever is a believer he is only thinking that God should be greater than what is showen, and this where frustration comes to him in the first place.

  (Quote)

Mack July 8, 2011 at 3:15 pm

I am a Christian, a pastor, an evangelist, and a scholar. I hold degrees in Theology, Philosophy and Physics. I have debated Atheists for over 40 years, both in the public arena as well as in private communications. I have never had an Atheist, not one, show me the respect at first that I showed him/her. Every Atheist I have ever debated comes into our relationship (and it is a relationship, however long or brief) with a high-minded arrogance and even sometimes rudeness. Most of them, didn’t have 1% of my education or life experience. Now, before I blatantly commit the fallacy of generalizations or division, seeing I have not spoken to all atheists, let me get to the point. Thank you for your rational commits and instruction. I appreciate many things that you have said. My mother used to say, “regardless what cloth we might be made of, and despite our outlook on life, there is no reason or excuse for rudeness.” And I add: from Christian nor Atheist. Good day.

  (Quote)

Kendall October 23, 2011 at 4:32 pm

I’m Atheist and I recently came out to friends that I am an Atheist (most of my friends are more or less religious) and for the most part they have all been extremely respectful of my personal views because I have been very respectful of their views. I have never been the Atheist to try and convert someone, because I don’t like it when people try to convert me or force religion down my throat . But one of my “best friends” have been almost harassing me about it lately (she is a very strong Catholic) I’ll keep these discussion/argument points in mind the next time she questions my views (my goal is not to convert her, only to make her tolerant to my views, just like how I’m tolerant to her views) The next step for me is to come out to my family, which might be easier said than done, because I was brought up in a Christian family and some (mainly my grandfather, aunt, and uncle) are naturally narrow-minded and very hateful towards other religions and races. So again these discussion/argument points will be helpful. Thank you.

  (Quote)

Leave a Comment