For anyone who has taken part in a religious debate, or even just observed one, the question about why even debate this subject would probably seem familiar. This question can take various forms and nuances, ranging from “why even bother?” to “why not just live and let live?”
I consider this to be one of the most important questions to ask, and answer, before any of the ‘meat and potatoes’ religious arguments even begin. Without understanding the reasons for the debate, the whole thing might be no more than a waste of time – albeit an entertaining one.
The first, best and most concise answer I can give to this question is – because it deserves to be debated.
By this I do not mean to blame religion (at least not yet) or accuse it for being wrong and destructive; thereby deserving punishment. No, what I mean by saying that it deserves to be debated is to say that it is, in fact, a very important and powerful subject that commands the respect of both believers and non believers. Though I think that much of what the world’s religions say and do is nonsense, I would be the last person to downplay or underestimate the tremendous power religions have over billions of people. And for that reason it quite literally deserves to be debated.
I do not think that there is such a thing as a topic that is too important for debate. To claim that a topic should not be discussed and debated is to claim that it is not important enough.
One common complaint you might hear about debating religion is that religious beliefs need to be respected, and that being argumentative about people’s beliefs is disrespectful. But Consider the fact that what a debate is, in essence, is making statements, asking questions, disagreeing with answers, and offering up what one considers to be better ones. And as I already stated above, the reason why I do this is because I take the subject of religion, and what religious people say and do, seriously. If this be disrespect, then give us increase of it. I could only hope for more people to “disrespect” me as much as to take everything I say so seriously.
Yet another argument I hear quite often against the practice of debate is that it is futile – “you’ll never be able to convince anyone so stop wasting your time”. There is, of course, no way for me to measure or quantify the effectiveness of religious debates, but I do think, or rather know, that minds can and do change – I happen to be a living example of this. This does not always happen, but it happens often enough for the practice of debate to be worthwhile. And though I would never dream of comparing myself to one of the greatest scientists who ever lived, I am eternally inspired by how Charles Darwin ended his book On The Origin Of Species:
“I by no means expect to convince experienced naturalists whose minds are stocked with the multitude of facts… It is so easy to hide our ignorance under such expressions as “plan of creation”, “unity of design,” etc., and to think that we give an explanation when we only re-state a fact…but I look with confidence to the future – to young and rising naturalists, who will be able to view both sides of the question with impartiality. Whoever is led to believe that species are mutable will do good service by conscientiously expressing his conviction; for thus only can the load of prejudice by which this subject is overwhelmed be removed”