Coffee with Bernie -- Conversation Analysis

I just saw an interesting YouTube video posted by TheIowaAtheists and linked to by at least The Friendly Atheist (where I happened to find it).

It was a scripted conversation between two actors: an atheist and a Christian that takes place in a coffee shop.

There are several reasons I'm posting it here. First of all, I think it's decently well made and entertaining. Second, a lot of the commenters on FA's site mentioned that this is what it sounds like when they have arguments and so forth. Third, I think it's pretty representative of many conversations that believers and nonbelievers get into. Finally, I think that I could use this as an example in certain places of what I think could be said differently to change what is said into something more useful.

Here's the video, I post my comments underneath with the corresponding time-stamp from the video:

Christian: "Prove there is no God."
Atheist: "You can't prove a negative, Bernie. Prove there's no dragons or unicorns..."

I hate the response that "you can't prove a negative", and I hear it all the time. First of all, the statement's false. I think the atheist is much more on track when he says "Prove there are no dragons...", but I'd be making a different point.

In response to "Prove there is no God" or to improve the challenge a bit for their sake, "What evidence do you have that God doesn't exist?"
I'd say something more like, "That's a weird way of going about things, but if that's how you operate, I'll give it a try. Show me how you'd provide evidence against the existence of unicorns, and I'll know what kind of evidence counts to you -- and I'll see if I can muster that kind of evidence against God's existence."

If you think that the theist is making an unreasonable request -- providing evidence for the non-existence of something -- don't tell him or teach him or any other thing. Have him walk into his own request and see how he gets out of it. If he can't, then you're under no obligation to answer it either.

Christian: "In your mind, if you can't see it, it doesn't exist."

I'd invite him to ask me what I thought, rather than to just assume he knows what and how I think. This is a reciprocal tactic in that I suggest that both sides observe this suggestion. For example, what he said is false for me.

Also, don't say "it can be proven to exist", it's sloppy wording and you'll get in trouble if you talk to someone who's careful. I suggest you stay away from the "prove" word in general.

The discussion about the disappearing egg was headed somewhere interesting, but the atheist never actually made an argument, so it kind of petered out.

Christian: "Why do you want everyone to be an unbeliever?"

My response: "Because the truth matters to almost everyone. Would you want to know whether what you base your life on is actually correct or not?"

Atheist: "It's not that I think you're stupid, you naive. "

I don't like the atheist telling the Christian why he believes as he does, "It's what you've been taught since you can remember." Really, I think it's really important to ask:

1. What the person believes, and
2. the most important and compelling reasons he has for holding those beliefs.

If the Christian had said, "The most important reason that I think that Jesus died for my sins is that I was taught it since I was little," then go that route, but not many people would list that as the most compelling reason they believe that it's true. And if they don't think that that reason is why it's true, you're assuming things about what and why they believe in religion, and you're going to make the conversation more difficult for everyone.

Atheist: "The main difference between you and I is that I think your religion is just as crazy as theirs."

Good! But the very next sentence, besides being a non-sequitur, changes the point into something different, lessens the blow of the previous sentence, and gives the person something much less interesting to respond to.

Atheist: "I mean look at all the people that died in the name of religion."

The responses to that are boring and predictable -- and in general, the consequences of religion are orthogonal to the truth claims of the religion. Stick with the "Why should I think your religion is less crazy than all other religions?" It's a great avenue.

Christian: "I live my belief, it guides my daily choices."

My response, "What guides your choices, specifically? The Bible?" and then go from there however they respond from that. For example, let's just say they say the Bible gives them guidance on the important moral decisions in their life. I'd say, "I doubt that's true for a number of decisions, I mean, you think that owning people as slaves is immoral, right? Where did you get that moral idea?" Then go down the slavery argument route.

Atheist: "People, the media, etc..."
I've found is that almost everyone thinks that the media influences "what other people think" -- people almost never say, "well I just believe that because the media told me." Stop assigning the reasons for why a person believes as he does, you'll only work against yourself.

Atheist: "If you want a government run by religion, why don't you move..."

Terrible, don't say that, it's wrong on many levels.

Christian: "Well you can't deny everything in the Bible, it is a historical document."

I suggest: "I'll bet that the Bible has all sorts of true facts in it -- from the location of towns, to the fact that some people wore sandals at the time it was written. Do you think that there's a particularly interesting claim that you think is true that I don't?"

Those are my impressions on a few things that stuck out to me. Feel free to disagree with my "improvements" -- but let me know which you have a problem with and why.

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