Sunday, September 14, 2014

Cal Shakes - A Midsummer Night's Dream review

If there is one thing that I figured out while watching the last play of this year's season at the California Shakespeare Theater, it's that my wife and I need to start going to evening showings. Pretty much every time we went this year, it was really hot for the first hour, and then it cooled down a bit after that. With this play, it was practically unbearable, as I was gushing with sweat. Normally I sweat more than the average person, but I saw a lot of folks with shiny faces and wet shirts. Sure, it can get pretty cold on the evening performances, but bundling up with sweaters and blankets is much more pleasurable than feeling like Helios is punching you into submission.

That said, even the sweltering heat wasn't enough to ruin my enjoyment of A Midsummer Night's Dream. I first read the play in high school, then again in college. I remember pretty much enjoying the movie version with Kevin Kline, but I hadn't given it much thought since. I was worried that I might be a bit confused as to what was happening, but it all started to come back to me. My wife, who's less well-versed in Shakespeare than me, had no problem following the basic storyline - which is a testament to both the writing and the performance, as it's not the most straightforward narrative there is, as there is both the human and the fairy world at work here.

This was probably my second favorite show of the season, but that's only because A Raisin in the Sun was so ridiculously excellent. Aside from that, it's up there with some of my favorite performances that I've seen over the years, including Julius Caesar, Richard III, and Spunk. It was good to see some returning favorite actors, especially Danny Scheie, my wife's favorite, as Puck. I should also note that he scared the crap out of me (and the look on his face acknowledged that he was aware of it) when he entered his scene, yelling at the top of his lungs in that distinct voice of his. He came in through the audience, and I was right at the entrance. I jumped a bit in my seat - totally unprepared for his entrance. It's all good though - it was funny.

I also really dug Margo Hall as Bottom. I saw her in the aforementioned "Raisin" along with Spunk and always thought that she did a good job, but it was really cool to see this Shakespearean-trained actress take on some actual Shakespeare. Even though Bottom is a male part, she really made it her own, and I hope to see her do some more in the years to come.

I don't feel like there's as much to say about Shakespeare's comedies as there is with his comedies. I have to wonder if his work would have the broad appeal that it currently enjoys if he only had his comedies to his name. Don't get me wrong - I like them, and I think that there is a lot of good stuff one can say about pretty much all of them. However, there's just never going to be as much to ponder as there is with the tragedies - the possible exception being The Merchant of Venice, I guess.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Argument from Authority

Years ago when I worked at a dotcom, there seemed to be a lot of my fellow coworkers who were believed that aliens were visiting us and doing all sorts of things from leaving crop circles to rectally probing people. I remember having a debate with a couple of people who were insistent that all of that were true, and one woman used as her trump card that she heard "a guy from the C.I.A." who said that it was all happening.

I pointed out that she was using an argument from authority fallacy (technically, it's an argument from an anonymous authority), but as I've mentioned before, pointing out logical fallacies only has an effect if you're talking to somebody who's playing by the rules of logic in the first place. It's not too hard to figure out why this is a fallacy. What if I got another guy from the C.I.A. who said that it wasn't happening? (He's part of the cover-up, obviously!) Sure, it very well may be possible that it is happening, but I need some actual evidence if I'm going to believe something so incredible. Simply having some guy with some insider government information (that he's rather reckless about spilling to the average person) claim that it's so doesn't make it so.

Essentially, the argument from authority is the adult version of: "My mom said (x) is true!" I remember that I once had a student tell me that Catholics weren't Christians because her grandmother said that they weren't. I had to gently tell her that her grandmother was wrong. As we get older, we tend to give automatic credence to doctors, scientists, etc. without necessarily checking to see what their specific credentials are or if they actually have evidence to back up their claims. Nothing is true simply because an authority figure says it's true.

I can imagine that somebody might object here and point out that I often point out the scientific consensus when it comes to things like evolution, climate change, and GMOs in order to make my point, and thus, I make the argument from ignorance fallacy. While I do point out the consensus, I'm not guilty of making the fallacy as I'm not trying to make the case that evolution is true, climate change is happening, and GMOs are safe because the scientific consensus says so. In the case of each of those, the evidence speaks for itself, and you don't need expert opinions to figure that out.

Then why bring it up at all? I do so because it's an interesting challenge, and when I refer to the scientific consensus, I refer to a consensus of scientists who are experts in those particular fields because ultimately the person who is arguing the opposing side is asserting that they have an understanding that the experts don't. For instance, if somebody denies anthropogenic climate change, they're implying that they understand the science better than the vast majority of climate scientists. It very well may be the case that they do, but when I bring it up, I'm asking them to explain what it is that they get that the experts don't get. Usually in this case, you can expect an evasion.

I once got into a conversation with a creationists about a TV special featuring Stephen Hawking. In it, Hawking gave his reasons for why the universe doesn't need a creator in order for it to exist. The creationist called Hawking's conclusion "laughable". My response was to ask what, exactly, did Hawking get wrong as far as the science was concerned. He brought up the fact that Hawking didn't mention things like "evidence from design", which still doesn't address the question. Did he really think that Hawking had never heard that before? Same goes with people when I talk about GMOs; they will express that more testing needs to be done, but that implies that they understand something about the process that the majority of geneticists understand, since they are saying that they're safe. Again, the critics might be right, but if they are, they should be able to explain why their understanding is better - preferably with an actual geneticist in the room.

Bringing up what the experts say isn't a logical fallacy so long as you're not using it as the reason as to why something is true. It's simply a way of getting people to address the specific arguments and offer any evidence to the contrary. The problem comes in when people use the opinion of an authority figure as evidence, their authority figures aren't even experts on the particular subject, or the authority figure isn't even named in the first place (like our mysterious C.I.A. official).

A big problem that comes up with this fallacy is that often the people who constantly use it will assume that you're doing it as well. To be specific, I have had on more than one occasion Christians bringing up the philosopher Friederich Nietzsche to me. Nietzsche is understood to be an atheist, and he was the one who is often quoted as saying that "God is dead". From what I understand, and I very well could be getting this completely wrong as I'm no philosophy expert, his point was that as society moves away from religious faith, humans will struggle to find some sort of intrinsic value to life, as that's what they had with a belief in God. Essentially, the Christian is trying to tell me that since Nietzsche is an atheist, and I'm an atheist, that I should accept his premise and feel that life has no inherent meaning (ultimately as a way of demonstrating that their worldview is superior to mine).

What they don't seem to understand is that if this I don't give a crap what Nietzsche had to say. If he says things with which I agree, then I agree. But if he says something with which I disagree, then I disagree. I'm not going to agree with the guy on everything just because I agree with many of his critiques of religion. More importantly, if I am understanding his premise correctly, I think that it's a false one, as I don't think that people derive intrinsic value from religion. Rather, I think that they have their values and then wind up ascribing them, after the fact, to their religious faith.

This doesn't just happen with Nietzsche. I've had a theist tell me that Richard Dawkins thinks that atheists should embrace the idea of being "militant" after I said that was a ridiculous thing to do. I suppose the person thought that I was going to find myself in some sort of difficult position of sticking with what I said and contradicting Richard Dawkins. Fortunately for me, I have no problem disagreeing with the man. (I personally think that calling ourselves "brights" is pretentious as all hell, for instance.) I guess what many theists don't seem to understand is that atheists - or to be more specific - skeptics don't have any authority figures. We might have people we admire, but if Lawrence Krauss (another atheist I admire) started talking tomorrow about how we need to wear tinfoil hats to protect us from alien mindreaders, then I'll have no problem saying that Krauss is off his nut. (That is, of course, unless he provides objective and verifiable evidence.)

An even better example of this misunderstanding comes up in the movie God's Not Dead. The setup for the film is a Christian student takes a philosophy class with a professor who insists that the kids sign a statement declaring that "God is dead" in order to pass the class. (Something which has never happened and would be criticized by even some of the most strident atheists.) During the film, he debates his professor on the existence of God, only to get the professor to admit that the problem is that he's mad at God, which makes him not an atheist at all (but I digress).

I hesitate to give this movie any publicity, even if it's the 30-100 hits my blog posts get. I also must admit that I haven't seen it, but a friend told me about it, and I've read so many reviews of it that my point still stands. If anybody has seen it, and it turns out that I'm getting something wrong, please let me know. (And if you want a very thorough analysis of the film, check out what the Camels with Hammers blog, written by an actual atheist philosophy professor, has to say.)

From what I've read, the arguments that the two throw at each other consist of little more than arguments from authority. The professor quotes the likes of Dawkins and Hawking, and then he's dumbfounded that the student (the hero of the film) isn't impressed by the credentials of those he quotes. In other words, he is unable to make any arguments of his own. He can't even seem to paraphrase what others have said.

Perhaps there are atheists out there who only parrot what prominent nonbelievers have said, but that's not the way most of the ones I know come to their conclusions. I was an atheist long before I ever heard of Richard Dawkins or many of today's prominent nonbelievers. Sometimes I will quote one of them, not as a way of providing what I think is evidence, but because I think that they have made a true statement in as clear a manner as possible, and for me to use my own words would be to run the risk of being less articulate. A prime example includes Christopher Hitchens, who said: "That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."

It's not true because he said it. It's true because it simply makes sense. Why should I have to go digging for evidence to disprove something for which no evidence has been provided? A basic tenet of logic is that the person making a claim about something is the one who has the burden of proof to provide evidence, not the other way around. (I guess I ought to write my next logical fallacy post on the burden of proof.) In other words, Kermit the frikken' Frog could have said it, and I'd still quote it. Shoot, I bet you could easily compile a list of Hitchens quotes with which I do NOT agree, but that has no impact on the fact that I like what he said that one particular time.

I suppose that I can understand why I run into this problem with so many theists in particular. Their entire belief structure is based on the words of an authority, so naturally they assume that I must be doing something similar. Even when people get away from theism though, they run the danger of replacing one authority (The Bible - or somebody's interpretation of it) with another (like the Food Babe or some other mountebank).

The good news is that it's very possible to not fall into this particular line of fallacious thinking. As Lawrence Krauss said, when speaking of the scientific method:
There are no scientific authorities. That's a key point. There are scientific experts. But there's no one whose views are not subject to question. And that's the key point. And there's no student that should ever be afraid of saying to a professor in a science class, "You're wrong and here's why."

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Cal Shakes - Pygmalion

I have some vague memories of reading Pygmalion and watching My Fair Lady when I was a freshman in high school. It gave my teacher, Mr. Byson, a chance to teach us all about England in general and London in particular. I knew what Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square were long before I spent a semester there as a college student, and I think that it was my teacher's influence that made me a bit of an Anglophile.

I haven't read or seen either of those works since, and I thought that I had remembered them pretty well, but I realized that there was a lot that had slipped my memory when I went to see it at Cal Shakes this afternoon. I remembered Eliza Doolittle and her cockney accent (that is what it is, right?) but I think that I remember more from My Fair Lady. Isn't there a bit about the rain in Spain staying mainly on the plain? And for some reason, I thought that Julie Andrews was in it, but a quick search shows that it was Audrey Hepburn. Oh well, guess I'd better check it out again.

Anyway, today's performance was thoroughly enjoyable, and it all went by rather quickly. The cast did a nice job, with Irene Lucio showing that she has some great comedic chops as Eliza. Anthony Fusco did a great job as the rigid, intelligent, but awfully clueless Henry Higgins. (I like to call 'im 'Enry "Iggins" meself.) And while he might not seem like a main character, I really appreciated L. Peter Callender in the role of Colonel Pickering, as he was able to radiate the good nature of the character, providing an excellent foil for Higgins.

Just like most of the best works of art, this play has a lot of themes that are still relevant today. So long as there are some people who have more than others, we'll have people dividing themselves into groups based on who has more. Even though Britain's class struggles aren't exactly the same as what we experience in America, we've got enough of it that I think it speaks to audiences here as well. Even without all of that, it deals with a very human tendency to disregard the needs and feelings of others.

For my final thought, I love the irony of having a George Bernard Shaw play at a Shakespeare festival. No, I'm not talking about how they're doing non-Shakespeare stuff. They always do that. I'm talking about the fact that when it came to the Stratford playwright, Bernard had this to say: "There is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare."

I won't hold it against him.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Advice for the recently deconverted

Julian the Apostate
I figure that if I can give sincere advice to proselytizing Christians, I should probably be able to do an even better job of giving advice to those who have recently abandoned their religious faith. While nonbelievers are not a monolithic group, I think that what I have to say should prove useful for most of them, whether they identify as an atheist, an agnostic, or perhaps even a deist.

1. Be open about it. This might be easier said than done depending on your family situation and where you live. If you think that you can still maintain your important relationships (not to mention your career) with this revelation, then let people know where you stand. I'm not saying that you need to confront people and get in debates, but don't let people assume that you're something that you're not. I wrote before about how atheists can learn from the struggle for equality that gay people have faced. Many people have come to accept gays and support their rights simply by realizing how many of them are around them and learning that they're really not all that different from them. When more believers realize that apostates don't become cat-sacrificing meth-heads upon deconversion, then we'll start to become less scary to them.

2. Be prepared to hear points as though you've never even considered them, even though you've spent much time pondering and ultimately rejecting them. If you follow my first piece of advice, then you're probably going to find this to be one of the most frustrating things. Did you spend a long time thinking about the various arguments for the existence of God only to find them wanting? Did you even use to say some of them yourself? Don't expect any of that to matter, as you'll hear everything from the ridiculous "Why are there still monkeys?" to the more thoughtful (but ultimately flawed) "The universe must have a case that exists outside of itself, and the best explanation for that cause is God". Not only will you hear all of these arguments, but believers will say them as though you've never given them any thought - even when you demonstrate that you have. They'll likely then accuse you of being close-minded and/or biased (even though you have already demonstrated that you can change your mind and overcome a bias).

3. It won't matter that you used to believe. This certainly seems to be the case with Christians in particular, but I imagine it's probably true for other faiths as well. Once you tell somebody that you don't believe, they assume that the problem is that you somehow don't know the theology. The problem won't be that you've found some flaw in the system. Clearly, it's that you don't know anything about it. Much like in my last point, even when you explain that you were a firm believer, many theists have a hard time accepting that one can sincerely believe and then change his or her mind. You might even find this happening with people you've known your whole lives and prayed next to in church. Prepare for frustration.

4. They will assume things about you. Without even listening to your objections, many believers will immediately start formulating a narrative in their heads about why you feel the way you do. Obviously, you're angry at God. Or, you had a bad experience. Probably the most helpful thing you can do is, instead of debate, simply explain why you don't believe (rather than telling them why they shouldn't believe).

5. They're not interested in what you've found out. For some nonbelievers, coming away from faith feels like stepping out of a prison where you had the key all along. You step outside the bars, look back, and wonder how the hell you could have stayed in there for so long. And then you see your friends and family and you want to yell at them: "Hey! Look in your hands! You have the key! It's obvious!"  Unfortunately, instead of them thanking you, they'll insist that they're not in a prison and won't even look to see what's in their hand. The truth is, many of them are perfectly happy in there. Their families and friends are there. They like the music. They like the camaraderie. For some of them, it's actually pretty comfortable and they have a lot of space to move around and the guards are pretty nice to them.

I realize that any believers out there are probably feeling a bit insulted with this analogy. Please realize that I'm trying to address nonbelievers, and whether we're right or wrong, this is how it feels. Many of us want to help others get away from faith, but the reaction on the part of many is to completely reject what we have to say rather than even consider that we might be on to something.

6. If you debate, stick with conversations about evidence. I think that I've learned this one the hard way. I've gotten into long debates about issues like how the Bible endorses slavery, and ultimately it's just frustrating and pointless. Apologists will excuse anything, no matter how horrific, that's in The Bible. (If I had a nickel for every time I heard the intellectually and morally bankrupt "Slavery was different back then/It was more like indentured servitude!" argument, I'd have a hell of a lot of nickels.) Ultimately though, these kinds of discussions are pointless. Let's say that The Bible clearly stated that owning human beings was wrong. Would that suddenly make the Christian God real? No. You'll find better morals in the average Superman comic, but that doesn't make Superman any more real than Jesus.

Stick with discussing what you both consider to be evidence, and then determine whether such evidence exists. Don't hold your breath thinking that they'll give you something, but be open to hearing about it.

7. Remember that they're not stupid. Don't get all tribalistic about this and assume that those on your side are somehow smarter than the opposition. There are plenty of bad reasons to become a nonbeliever, and a lot of atheists and agnostics aren't very thoughtful about their unbelief.

8. Beware the condescending nonbeliever. If you're the kind of person who likes to debate this stuff, don't be shocked when some of your fellow nonbelievers think that you're somehow doing the equivalent of what the Westboro Baptist Church does. It's funny, because even though I'm very public in my nonbelief, I've found myself making friends with a lot of Christians. It's weird, because they send me friend requests. I even get a few +1's on Google Plus from believers on some of the blog entries I've written.

However, talking to some atheists and agnostics, you're creating the crime of all crimes by critiquing an idea. They act like believers are little children holding on to their teddy bears, and you're trying to tear them away from their beloved toy. Are there some atheists who are obnoxious and insulting? Sure. But even in that case, you'll find that most believers can handle it just fine. They're not as fragile as you think.

The ironic thing about this is that in an effort to be more open and tolerant, these kinds of nonbelievers wind up being the most insulting of all.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Four years of daddyhood

Last Friday, my dad came down to visit, and when he left to take the three and a half hour drive home, he took my son, Logan, (who turned four today) with him to spend a couple of nights up at "Papa's Ranch". I had told Logan that he would be going up there for about a week beforehand. He's been up to my dad's before but always with my wife and me. He's also been away from us (once for a week) while staying with my wife's parents. The difference is that they live close by, so he sees them fairly regularly.

When we finished lunch, Logan started asking when it was time to go. He got into my dad's car and said goodbye to us with no drama whatsoever. When we talked to him the next day on the phone, he was having a great time.

I realize that there's nothing remarkable to all this, but I think that a lot of parents know what I mean that while it's not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, it's a big deal to me. There were a lot of emotions going through me. First of all, he was finally old enough to go up there and spend a couple of days on his own. Next summer, he'll probably spend several days there just as his older cousins have in the past. Basically, it was a crossing of the threshold as he's clearly no longer a baby or a toddler but a little kid now. I was also immensely proud of him for being so confident - and I dare say that I'm a bit proud of my wife and me, as we probably did something right to have him be like that. Still, there's something kinda sad about the fact that he's so nonchalant about leaving us for a few days!

I've mentioned this before, but the best and most bittersweet advice I received when I first became a dad was that my job was to teach my son how to live without me. While he's obviously not going to be there for some time, it's safe to say that he's on his way. The thing is, I can understand overly-protective parents. At least, I can understand the instinct that drives it. But ultimately that kind of parenting can only lead to harm. They're not puppies who will still require your care when they reach adulthood.

Aside from all these mixed feelings, here are some other random notes and observations from me being a dad. I imagine that some of these are universal.

1. My feet hurt. Seriously. Little kids don't look where they're walking, and if you're not wearing shoes and they are, be prepared to have them step on your feet. Sure, they don't weigh as much as an adult, but when it happens repeatedly throughout the day, no matter how many times I caution him to be careful, it starts to add up.

2. It's like having a little drunk Jack Tripper living in the house. I have never seen a real life human being do as many pratfalls as my son. He's always spinning around, acting silly, and totally unaware of his environment. Try and ask him to stand in one spot for more than three minutes, and he'll fall down somehow.

3. Just when I think I'm about to engage in a conversation and/or explain something, everything gets derailed. He'll ask about something like whether a seal is a fish, and then when I try to explain what mammals are, he'll start talking about how he had ice cream yesterday. Stay on topic, dammit! (Actually, I'm noticing a bit of an evolution on this one - he seems to be able to stay focused on a conversation for at least a couple of minutes now as opposed to half a minute before.)

4. I'm trying my best to let him be his own person. When I was in my early twenties, I took my nephew to get some Star Wars toys. When he saw the Power Rangers toys, he told me that he wanted them, and I insisted that we were there to get Star Wars toys for him. Oh boy. How embarrassing. Good thing I waited until my late thirties, where I gained a little perspective, to have my son. As of now, he seems to be taking to superheroes and Star Wars, but I don't think that's so strange for a little boy. However, he's got some other interests, and he really loves monsters. For his birthday, I got him a Godzilla, which he insists is his favorite present. He also likes this show called Ninjago, and I got him one of those toys not too long ago. I guess there's always going to be some crossover in interests though when your dad is basically a little kid at heart himself.

He's not showing much interest in sports, but if he does, then I'll sign him up for something. As of right now, he doesn't get any exposure to it at home. However, we do have him in a couple of activities, both of which he loves: dancing and swim lessons. He really loves the dancing, and his teacher told us that he's doing a great job and he's always eager to volunteer for freestyle dancing when asked. We even got to see a performance, and only about half of them volunteered for the freestyle dancing, but his hand was up right from the beginning. So long as he remains this enthusiastic, we'll keep him in dance class.

He's also a bit of a ham and a storyteller (that's probably a bit of my DNA in there) so we hope to sign him up for some kind of drama class when we can find one that takes his age group.

Still, I'm not trying to set my heart on anything. If he changes interests and wants to do something else, then I will encourage him to do what he wants. I guess the only thing that I'll kind of push is for him to at least take interest in something, whatever that might be.

5. I have a hard time reading about or watching anything to do with kids being harmed. I think that's pretty self-explanatory.

6. He has a mischievous streak like his maternal grandfather, and he likes to make up stories like my dad. When asked what his favorite movie was at preschool, he said that it was Planet of the Apes. When asked about his favorite T-shirt, he said that it was his Green Lantern one. When asked about his favorite toy, it was his Batman action figure.

And yet he had never seen that movie, and he didn't own that shirt, and he doesn't have that toy. When we asked him why he told his teacher that, he just let out a big belly laugh. Kinda like Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood.

7. He's well-loved, and he knows that he is. I figure that's probably pretty important.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Conquer the bias

Everybody has biases, and it's foolish to pretend that you don't. Your biases are often a product of your personal experiences, your upbringing, and the society in which you live. They shape your opinions on things, and you like it when you discover things that reconfirm your biases. There's nothing wrong with having them, but I think that they do become a problem when we use them to justify how we feel about things without analyzing the situation even deeper.

To be more specific, I once was in a conversation with somebody about marriage equality. The other person couldn't give a single logical reason for why same sex couples shouldn't be allowed to get married. Ultimately, the other person just went with: "That's just the way I was raised." So, one can justify denying people their equal rights because it aligns with the values that you were brought up with? How does that make sense?

I sometimes get it lobbed at me that I'm "biased" when I reject supposed "evidence" for the supernatural. When I try to point out that the "evidence" that's being presented is either an anecdote, an argument from ignorance, or some other logical fallacy, that's when the accusation of bias comes out. If anything, I have a bias towards evidence-based reasoning, but I don't have a bias toward the supernatural not being real.

I suppose that I am biased against certain forms of supernatural belief systems. I don't particularly like the tenets of the Christian faith, and I not only don't believe them, but I hope that they're not true. However, when one embraces an evidence-based worldview, then one has to accept even the things that he or she doesn't like. For instance, I really, really, really wish that anthropogenic climate change wasn't real, and I tend to have a bias against things that get people all worried and panicky over things that might happen. However, it doesn't matter what my bias is; the evidence shows that it's happening. I also am biased in favor of the idea that alien civilizations are visiting our planet. The evidence doesn't match my bias though, darnit.

It especially doesn't make sense to me when people accuse me of not believing in a god because of my bias. I was raised to believe in God. When I started this journey, my bias was toward him existing. It's not that I decided one day to adopt a new bias; it's that I figured out that my bias wasn't justified. (Because sometimes they are justified. I have a bias against people who don't like The Beatles, and scientific evidence shows them to be untrustworthy.) Are there people who are so biased against any form of faith that they won't even hear the arguments? Of course. Are they so biased that even if God came down and gave a clear, unambiguous, verifiable sign that they'd still hold on to their nonbelief? I suppose so. But it's a mistake to assume that people don't reach the same conclusions as you simply because of a bias.

A bias is something that one should recognize and view as an obstacle toward discovering the truth. If anything, you look for things that would prove your bias to be unfounded rather than things that confirm it. That's easier said than done, and I like having my biases confirmed as much as the next guy, but I recognize that sometimes I need to at least hear the other side out in case my bias is taking me down the wrong path.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sincere advice for the proselytizing Christian

An article on WikiHow, entitled "How to Persuade an Atheist to Become Christian" has been making the rounds on various skeptic and atheist forums these last couple of days. I'm not sure if it's been going around the various online Christian communities, but just in case it has, I would like to offer some advice to any Christian who's thinking of employing this particular strategy. I'm not going to pick apart its various faults or attack Christianity, rather, I'm going to explain why you're probably just going to find yourself frustrated more than anything, and maybe I'll be doing you a favor by saving you some time.

The first thing that I should note is that not all atheists are alike. I can only speak for myself, and I became an atheist through skepticism. This is not true for all atheists. There are lots of reasons why people don't believe. However, I know a lot of atheists who approach the issue of religious faith the same way that I do, so even though this is from my point of view, I feel confident that a lot of atheists will agree with what I'm saying.

Also, I'm not going to go through each and every point. No doubt there are all sorts of people doing a thorough analysis already. I'm just going to point out a few things that jumped out at me.

1. It starts off with a pretty bad premise when it gives the following bit of advice:
Put yourself in your friend's seat. First, they don't have your concept of salvation, as "to be saved from The Law of Sin and Death", or that "all have sinned and deserve judgment".
One thing that I find odd when I debate with Christians is that they often talk about some of its basic principles as though I've never heard of it before. This article assumes right from the get-go that the atheist has no "concept" of some pretty basic Christian ideas.

I think a better bit of advice, especially if you're living in a Christian-dominated country, is that you can assume that there's a good chance that they know the basics. Not only that, but you have to realize that many atheists are former believers. Some of them were fervent believers, and some of them were even pastors. They can talk the talk, and they've walked the walk. Sure, there are some people out there who don't have the faintest clue about Christianity, but don't this idea makes the mistake of thinking that people reject the idea of the Christian God out of ignorance. And I don't mean to be snarky here, but let's face it - Christianity is an evangelizing religion by nature, and it's not like you're the Druids.

And if you're tempted to tell the former believer that he or she was never a "true" Christian in the first place, well, good luck with that. Trust me, it's not going to get you very far.

2. The second point under "preparation" goes as follows:
Before starting a discussion, you must expect that they have a non-religious orthodoxy with their evidence aligned in their favor, as they see it, regarding origins from the vacuum of space, universe and life from a black hole, from nothing but (mindless) energy changing to matter by no plan, yet results so astonishing, with no design -- matter "rattling around" to create all the orderly, interdependent processes -- as the basis of theories of origins (unobservable stuff form into theories of what they believe) may be arguable, perhaps logical, but how so?
If this is the best way that you can articulate the atheist position, then don't be surprised if the atheist rolls his or her eyes at you. Try reading up on what the actual science says, as theories are NOT formed from "unobservable stuff".

3. The fourth point under preparation says:
Verify that the Bible is scientifically correct every time it mentions science, even though it isn't a science text.
Not even all Christians will try and tell you this. As I stated before, I'm not interested in getting into debunking Christianity, but don't expect to find agreement with this premise. In fact, expect to find a long list of refutations with specific examples.

4. The fifth bit of "preparation" advice:
Be prepared to have a genuine conversation with them. Show interest in what they are saying. If you are going to convince him or her of anything one-on-one, you have to first take a genuine interest in that person's point of view.
The article doesn't state this, but a "genuine" conversation and sincere "interest" means that you're willing to consider that the other person is right. If you don't think that there's any way you can be wrong, then you're already failing this step. (And this is probably the biggest failure of the article, as it the writer doesn't understand the premises behind his/her own advice.)

5. I should first note that much of the advice is good stuff that could be useful no matter what you're discussing. However, it starts to assume too much with point number five under "Discussions":
Explain why Christianity helps people to live better lives.
Don't be shocked if the atheist doesn't even accept the premise of this. Has Christianity helped some people lead better lives? Absolutely. Some people kick drugs, alcohol, abusive relationships, etc. with Christianity. The same can be said of other religions. More importantly, there are atheists who don't feel as though they're somehow living an "worse" life than the average Christian. In fact, many of us feel the opposite, if anything. Be prepared to have the atheist point out that places that are more religious/Christian (the "Bible Belt" of the U.S.) tend to have lower standards of living than places with less religiosity (Scandinavia).

6. Again, some more good advice is given, but step 3 under "Long Term Goals" is curious:
After their arguments about any advantages of being atheist, say that their arguments are perfectly good points, but not enough to convert you to atheism.
In other words: "Make sure your mind is sufficiently made up and unwilling to change when given new evidence or a different perspective." I don't know about you, but I always assume that I can be wrong about anything and everything. I'm willing to  convert if given proper evidence (I don't care about "arguments" for belief) and I can spell out for you numerous examples of what that evidence would look like.

This relates back to point number 4, as it's not a genuine conversation if you're unwilling to even consider that you might be wrong.

7. The seventh point under "Long Term Goals" states:
As your friend listens (or just allows you to pray), pray that God will bless your friend and draw closer.
Honestly? Go ahead and pray for your friend. But don't do it in front of him or her because they're likely to view that as condescending. It carries the assumption that there's something wrong with them, and I hate to break it to you, but most of us atheists don't feel like we're missing something. Even if you're right, this will likely only turn the atheist off entirely.

Overall, I think that the article comes from a good, sincere place, and the writer wants to help people. However, it makes a few fundamental mistakes that will likely set off several alarm bells for atheists rather than have them consider converting to Christianity.