Please, Stop Trying

Over the last few months I’ve come across a few instances of people trying to convert others into their religion or lack thereof. I won’t discuss my personal stance on the matter, and I won’t try to advocate any particular viewpoint: Richard Dawkins, Karen Armstrong, and countless others have covered this for basically every belief system out there. The point I would like to make is this: To attempt to convince a person to believe or disbelieve religious or spiritual affairs through the use of reason and logic is itself unreasonable and illogical.

So, please stop trying.

A person who believes in something without being able to show some tangible evidence is doing one of the following:

  1. Suspending rational thought (as per Weber or Grayling)┬áregarding the matter (“It’s not about proof, its about faith”).
  2. Being rational, since he has evidence, but he is not able to replicate or communicate it to others (“You had to be there to understand it”).
  3. Making a mistake without realizing it (“Oh right, its really hard for my horoscope’s prediction not to be true”).

In either of the first two, argument is useless. In the first case, gaping holes in the logical argument will be apparent from the start. No glittering reason, researched argument or enlightened rhetoric will convince the person of this point, since these are elements of a rational language. Speaking logic to a person who has willingly abandoned it is like screaming at someone who insists on covering their ears. When they want to listen, they will let you know – lay off it until then.

In the less likely second scenario, you will find that all arguments are logically sound and quickly reach the conclusion that the debate rests on a single, unverifiable claim. You can decide on it whichever way you like but it will be, at best, an educated guess and an agreement to disagree. Flip a coin and move on.

By now, all lovers of religious debate have fled to the third scenario. In it, you meet a person who believes (or disbelieves) out of an honest mistake. He adheres to reason and would accept to a correction based on logic, and you can also show him proof of why he’s wrong, since he is interested in verifiable evidence of his mistake. Notice also that this guy is interested enough to hold a discussion on the subject, but has not been interested at any earlier point in time so as to investigate the matter and correct his honest mistake.

If you can find and identify a person like this in the same random party you’re at, I’ll buy you a drink. The chances of this third scenario occurring are insignificant in relation to the other two, as anyone who’s witnessed a fair share of religious debate will tell you. Starting a discussion on these topics with the hope that you’ll get number three is, in itself, pretty foolish and irrational.

Practically any debate on spiritual matters that you start will then be either with someone who doesn’t want to think reasonably or with someone who’s rational but can’t share his proof, and will almost certainly involve a large amount of negative emotion for all involved. So, again, please stop. Spare us all the tedium – either avoid the subject altogether or cut straight to the name-calling and fist-fighting.

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