You will almost never convert a Christian to atheism. If this is your goal then you will only come out of the discussion angry. Remember that the purpose of debating in a public forum is not to convert your opponent but instead to sway anyone who is listening and undecided.
Try to engage Christians publicly
This one may seem strange, but hear it out. As mentioned above, you will not convert your opponent. The best that you can realistically hope for is to persuade an undecided onlooker. That option is not available in private, so what will you really accomplish? There is nothing wrong with a private discussion on the matter, but trying to mount arguments against your friends may strain your relationships. Public debates have other merits though. For one, you may not be able to answer every argument or objection from your opponent. At this point it can be useful to be able to ask others for their opinions and insights (unless you’re in a formal debate). Public debates also enforce a certain level of honesty. Obviously lies can still creep in but they will often be tempered by the prospect of public humiliation.
Every person is entitled to his or her own beliefs and nothing destroys a good debate quicker that failure to respect that. Always refrain from using any insults or personal attacks to make a point. That kind of behavior will cause others to lose respect for you, and all of the well thought out arguments in the world will not help you to recover from that.
Know the bible
Keep your friends close but your enemies closer. This saying holds true in almost any situation and this one is no exception. One of the flaws of arguing for the truth of the bible is that many of Christianity’s core beliefs directly contradict common knowledge, science, and even themselves. Take advantage of this.
The creation story is a great example of a core belief that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Genesis 1:16, for example, states that God created two great lights – the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. This passage clearly refers to the moon as a light but this is not so. The moon only reflects light. It has no light of its own. There are thousands of others but they are way outside the scope of this article. For more information on contradictions in the bible visit “Atheist”.
The bible can be used to counter other arguments as well. One popular argument that Christians may use is the argument from morality. The argument states that without God there is no basis for morality and so everything would be permitted. The best way to show that Christian morals do not come from the bible is to quote it. The bible is littered with examples of atrocities that any Christian would condemn. A favorite comes from Kings 2:23-24.
Don’t go on the defensive
Christians who get into debates will often attack things like evolution, the big bang and other scientific theories. The idea is that if they can show that these things are incorrect then they can insert God instead. That is not true. Always remember that you are taking the side of atheism. Atheism has nothing to do with evolution or any other field of scientific study. If your opponent does decide to attack topics other than atheism just remind them politely that you are making no claims about the accuracy of other topics. You are simply asserting that there is no valid evidence for the existence of god. Don’t respond to off topic objections and don’t try to defend them.
The best method of keeping the discussion on track is to try to put the Christian on the defensive instead. After all, it’s the Christian who has the burden of proof. Try asking questions like, “What do you believe and why?” or “How did you come to that conclusion?” By asking questions you ensure that you are only talking about what your opponent actually believes.
Learn when to quit
Sadly all good debates must end. You will learn, with practice, when a debate is no longer constructive but there are a few things to watch out for. First and foremost keep an eye out for insults or attacks on your personal character. Once these start to show up it means that you have depleted your opponents reserve of actual arguments. It’s time to move on. Also look out for arguments that have already been addressed. If you start to discuss topics that were dealt with 20 minutes ago you can be sure that you will be right back where you started in another 20 minutes. Finally, if your opponent attempts to concede, let it happen. I have seen to many debates degrade into flame wars because one party has attempted to back out but his opponent wouldn’t drop the subject. Carrying on at this point will make you look bad and it won’t win you any friends.
Don’t forget to enjoy yourself. It can be easy to get frustrated when you feel like you’re being misunderstood (intentionally or otherwise), but if you just relax and enjoy yourself you will make better arguments and anyone observing the debate will respect you more for it.
The strategies given above should be taken as guidelines, not rules. There is no magic bullet for debating with Christians or any other religious group. It takes patience and practice to become good at it. That being said, if you follow the guidelines set you may not win every debate but you will find that your debates can be much more productive and enjoyable.