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A basic guide for debating atheists

This short excerpt is from AC Grayling‘s speech in an Intelligence Squared debate entitled Atheism is the new fundamentalism. I draw your attention to it because Grayling does an excellent job describing the fundamental pillars of the so-called “new atheist” argument. The three parts are, in short:

  1. atheism as in skepticism of the supernatural
  2. secularism as in removing religion’s privileged position in society
  3. humanism as in denying religious monopoly on morals and ethics

When debating with religious people or even other atheists I often find that they cross between the issues and end up muddling their argument. This short excerpt should clear up some confusion and provide a framework for debate, a good starting point. When debating an atheist, be sure to develop your case relative to the proper issue. Note that these issues correspond to three different fields of philosophy (epistemology, political and ethics).

Oftentimes, I find myself in agreement with religious “opponents” (more to their surprise than to mine). A case in point: though I think Issue 1 gives rise to Issue 2 and Issue 3, it is not a necessary condition. For example, you could be a person of faith and be a staunch supporter of separation of church and state. In these debates it always helps to be clear on the issues.

I encourage you to listen to Grayling’s entire speech and, for that matter, the entire debate. You can watch the event here or download the MP3 and listen to it at your leisure.