This is my tips page for engaging atheists in debate on Twitter. It has to be admitted and pointed out immediately that I don’t always follow these tips myself because sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the quick fire response discussions that don’t allow for some of these tips to be followed or indeed the heat of the moment where calmness, self-control over emotions take over. So these tips are the objective that I think provides the best way to engage in debate and are a reminder to me of what that objective is as well as sharing with others. Feel free to share your suggestions and tips by leaving a comment.
Tip #1 If you have the intention to engage in debate it’s best done when you know you are going to have a few hours free of relatively interrupted time. It’s not good practice to hit-and-run or to start a discussion then have to go eat a meal or or deal with the kids, or head out to work etc. It’s fine and well if you’re just relaxing and having some banter on Twitter but not for more serious discussions.
Tip #2 Pick your fights! It doesn’t take too much time on Twitter to get to know the time-wasters from the more informed, serious-minded debaters. Whilst it can be fun to trounce the uninformed and indeed sometimes needful, in general time is better spent on the better informed and serious minded atheists. Not only will you get a more interesting conversation but you’ll learn more and have more of a challenge. Any fool can make themselves feel good and look good by only picking on easy targets but the real challenge of any position you hold to is to test it against the best.
Tip #2 Try to make sure that you understand what a person has said before you reply. Too often people can jump into a response thinking the person has said something when there have actually said something different or are saying it for a specific reason, possibly as part of an ongoing discussion or response to another person. What I find helpful practice on these more serious discussions is to open a word document and copy/paste or type in their comments. Read it through a few times to make sure you are as certain as you can be that you’ve understood it properly and then make your reply. The same practice if you are initiating a subject. Post in your initial post then keep a track in the word document of any replies. Also, do any research that has to be done before submitting your reply. Check references, or sources given. Pick out the key point and cross-check it on Google (preferably on :edu sites), compose your reply in the word, double-check it then post it. Not only does this give you a good understanding of the conversation but it allows you to keep track of what has been previously said by both you and your opponent(s) and saves you having to wade back through posts to find what has been said by one or other. A further advantage is that you’ll less prone to indulge in personal insults and attack because it all takes on a more debate environment arena, rather than the often wild and wacky world of Twitter. This also gives you the advantage of having a hard copy of all your conversations with various individuals and on various subjects which can prove to be an invaluable resource in future discussions.
Tip #3 Don’t pretend to knowledge you don’t have. If you don’t know a subject that is raised or the answer to a question asked you do not try to bluff your way out of it. Inform the person you’re not familiar with that subject or point or don’t have a ready answer to it and tell them you will research it and get back to them. Make sure that you then do that research and do get back to them!
Tip #4 Don’t overload yourself by engaging in too many subjects with too many people at the same time. It’s nigh on impossible to competently do so, giving due care and attention to each topic that it deserves. It’s possible to perhaps engage usefully in two or three discussions, even on different subjects if you are doing it following Tip #2 but the more focused your mind is on one particular subject, generally the more effective you’ll present your case.
Tip #5 Be alert for fallacious reasoning, not only in your opponents posts but in your own replies. If you are going to allege that a fallacy has been committed then try to at least outline how it is so or don’t even use the name of the fallacy but explain it (e.g. instead of saying, ‘non sequitur’, say, it does not logically follow that etc…’).
Tip #6 If you get something wrong and it’s pointed out to you be honest and acknowledge the correction. No-one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes now and then. Trying to save face or allowing pride to stop you doing the right thing won’t serve you or the debate anything positive.
Tip #7 Expect to be insulted by atheists. For many of them it’s par for the course in the absence of any arguments for their position or the statements they make. As hard as it is to do, the best course of action is to simply not respond in any way to such attacks and to stick with the argument or point under discussion. (Bear in mind that many atheists follow the poor advice of Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss to mock religion and faith and those holding it).