Engaging skeptics online

(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #1

A few weeks ago, I was watching on YouTube a debate between a Christian and an atheist. When I was watching, YouTube’s ad on the right side of the screen caught my eye and I realized that it was an advertisement for a social media site for skeptics. I made a note of it continued to watch the debate. I proceeded to forget about it until about last week, where I actually explored the site. I don’t know if I’m allowed to name the site, but I am asking for advice if it would be a good idea (or not) to make an account on this website to engage with people (obviously not to argue or whatnot, just to politely ask answer questions, to have healthy conversations about God). The site is quite similar in layout as RZIM Connect (but it seems a bit older in design) as one can ask questions and join groups. One reason why I ask this is because one question someone asked to the masses of skeptics was what their ‘moral compass’ was. I read many of the responses (you don’t need an account to explore the site) and found that the two most popular answers to this question was:

  1. Being good for goodness’ sake (yup, they identified Santa as a point of reference)
  2. The golden rule of “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” (Not realizing this as Matthew 7:12)

I would love to hear from everyone to see what would be the wise thing to do! I appreciate your opinions!

As a side note, the website has on it’s home screen this text: “The community of reason” and this is their website rules:

The following are core principles we agree with:

  1. Be open-minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence.
  2. Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to be true.
  3. The scientific method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world.
  4. Every person has the right to control of their body.
  5. A god is not necessary to be a good person or to live a full and meaningful life.
  6. Be mindful of the consequences of all your actions and recognize that you must take responsibility for them.
  7. Treat others as you would want them to treat you, and can reasonably expect them to want to be treated. Think about their perspective.
  8. We have the responsibility to consider others, including future generations.
  9. There is no one right way to live.
  10. Leave the world a better place than you found it.

(SeanO) #2

@O_wretched_man I’m sure @CarsonWeitnauer has some good thoughts on what would be a wise course of action.

I think it depends on the atmosphere on the website. Do you see people having meaningful back and forth discussions or is everyone just airing their own opinion? Are other religious people on the site? If so, are they allowed to express their opinion without being ridiculed? Is the website supporting genuine dialogue or is it a club for unbelievers to exalt in their unbelief?

Proverbs 9:8-9 - Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you;
Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.
9 Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser;
Teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.

The Message translation of this passage makes the point more powerfully:

If you reason with an arrogant cynic, you’ll get slapped in the face;
confront bad behavior and get a kick in the shins.
So don’t waste your time on a scoffer;
all you’ll get for your pains is abuse.
But if you correct those who care about life,
that’s different—they’ll love you for it!
Save your breath for the wise—they’ll be wiser for it;
tell good people what you know—they’ll profit from it. Proverbs 9:7-8, The Message

Likelihood is if the people who run the website are really fair minded you should be able to find other believers already engaging in dialogue in a meaningful way, or at least that is my suspicion.

(Carson Weitnauer) #3

Hi @O_wretched_man,

I think you might be encouraged by Richard Morgan’s testimony. He shared his story with Brian Auten.

He starts by sharing how he realized he’d always been an atheist:

But of course I grew up and I realised that in fact I did not need that kind of contact, that kind of moral support. I moved to France and fairly shortly afterwards I read Richard Dawkins’ book, The Blind Watchmaker and what was fantastic for me, and this is a real epiphany experience, was to realise that of course, all these years of searching for something spiritual, or Godlike, were bound to be completely frustrating, because God didn’t exist!

This book of Richard Dawkins seemed to make it clear to me that there was nothing to look for, so stop looking and get on with your life. What I’d also like to say now, which I never said before in public, is that I didn’t feel like I became an atheist, the feeling was more that I realised was that I always had been. I get the feeling that I never actually believed in God or anything else invisible, but I was looking—for some unhealthy psychological reason—and once I discovered and identified that reason and I had good explanations which showed quite clearly that obviously God didn’t exist, it was just a huge relief. It was literally becoming a… coming out as an atheist was really a “Hallelujah experience” for me. A so I more or less gave up any interest in anything like that at all.

Given his interest in Dawkins, he decided to join the discussion forums on his website. He found the discussions interesting, but also quite rude and vulgar:

And so I joined the forum, which was my first ever forum on the internet and I met these intelligent scientists and philosophers in this “oasis of clear thinking” and I was just absolutely horrified. At least half the posters devoted their time to saying rude things about believers using really foul language, mocking, as David Robertson calls them, the “hate’n’bile” squad. I thought, this is, you know, why are they like this.

Being as this was my first ever forum, I thought well I’m not going to question them, you know; I’m the new boy on the block. I’ll just try and join in and be like them, as it were.

One day, there was a sustained discussion criticizing a book by David Robertson, who wrote The Dawkins Letters. To the community’s surprise…

And we started criticising it and generally laying into him. And then one day, lo and behold, David Robertson himself appeared in the discussion, defending the points that he made in his book and answering the questions and criticisms that had been made against him.

I don’t know how many hours he must have spent just replying, very calmly and politely, to people who were issuing, sending out the most vile insults and criticisms. He just kept coming back and coming back, occasionally with a few words of Scripture thrown into his general discourse. But he just kept coming back and I thought – my initial reaction was, “What is wrong with this guy?” I even published a post myself saying, “What is he doing here? What is he trying to expect…I’ll say that sentence again, “Why does he keep coming back?” What kind of result does he expect?” And of course the more experienced posters on the forum said, “Oh, it is just another Christian attention seeker”.

And this carried on for days and days and days…became the longest ever discussion on the RichardDawkins.net discussion board.

The gentle, humble tone of Robertson’s approach, the inclusion of Scripture, and the wisdom of his words really made an impression on Richard Morgan. He eventually prints out all of his posts. After reading through them, he emails David. And in considering David’s response, he has an encounter with God and becomes a Christian. David eventually connected him to a church in the town where he lives in France.

At the end of the interview, Richard provides two key pieces of advice to other apologists who want to follow David’s example. The first is to “keep coming back.” And the second is “not to prove the other person wrong” but to “maintain the communication, to open up the communication.”

Overall, I think this is really encouraging. A persistent, humble, thoughtful witness on Richard Dawkins’ website led to Richard becoming a Christian! God is at work in unexpected places.

I’d encourage you to pray and to openly listen to God’s guidance on next steps. In addition, examine yourself and count the cost:

  • How will you handle ridicule?
  • Are you prepared to thoughtfully and substantially respond to the arguments on this website?
  • Do you have the time to read, to research, to prepare, and to graciously write responses for the next few months?
  • Do you have a strong prayer life and will you pray for each person in this skeptical community?
  • Do you love the people in this skeptical forum? Is this initiative being motivated by love for their best interest?

There’s no shame in deciding this isn’t the right season or context for you to serve the Lord. If you do go ahead, I trust this community will be supportive and helpful to you as you engage with new friends in this other environment.

(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #4

@SeanO and @CarsonWeitnauer
Thank you both for giving me some great food for thought!
I appreciate both your responses and i am grateful for the wisdom shared.

When I first considered this skeptic website, I read through the posts and saw a lot of hostility to religion and Christianity in particular. A lot was made of the “stupidity of the bible,” but what really saddened me the most was that most of the people who were hostile against Christianity had a bad experience with a Christian. Many of them have suffered at the hand of an arrogant believer.

I realize now that I won’t have the time to honour them by doing the proper research and, to be honest, I don’t believe i’m spiritually mature enough to handle such hostility with the humility and grace of God yet. I will continue to pray for them but you guys have helped me make the wise decision to wait and grow in my walk with God. Hopefully I can come back in the future and take the time, but right now I’m willing to grow and mature in Christ first. I don’t want to destroy the message of Christ to others with my ignorance.

Thanks again, I truly appreciate the wisdom! Please pray for me in my walk with the Lord as I grow as a follower of Christ. God bless!

(SeanO) #5

@O_wretched_man Glad you were able to make an informed decision. It is always sad to see people who have been hurt by their experience with the Church - may the Lord mend their wounds in His mercy. Will def being praying that the Lord give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in knowledge of Him and guide you as you grow.