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Virtual debates, real-world doubts

Published: 9 March 2013 (GMT+10)

Sometimes debates turn nasty. Some people are not interested in respectful dialogue and only troll message boards and internet forums to insult those they disagree with. This can be exhausting, and it can create doubts if one is not careful. CMI’s Lita Cosner provides some sound biblical advice for how to handle the situation.

D.W. from the United States writes:

123rf.com/Frenk And Danielle Kaufmann

Hello CMI,

First I just wanted to say thank you for your ministry, because it has really encouraged me especially when I am doubting or internet message boards and see a topic posted by a skeptic.

I guess my questions are really regarding arguing, faith, and doubt. I have learned a lot about philosophy and science from your website and have read many of your articles. I guess my question is how to do you guys deal with emotional doubt and just sometimes getting tired of being ridiculed and laughed at online and in real life? I know I should just not let what people say on message boards bother me, but I just feel so tired of reading the hateful insulting messages over and over and that the people posting them not even looking for truth or desiring to have an honest conversation. I am sorry for this long message. I hope I am not wasting your time. I just am frustrated because among my group of friends back home I am the only one who has taken time to look up information about creation/evolution and its frustrating that the people I know in real life don’t care about an important topic. I guess all I am asking is how do you guys not constantly wonder if you are right, or constantly doubt yourselves? Thank you for answering my rather long-winded question.

CMI’s Lita Cosner responds:

Dear D.,

Thanks for writing in. I can give you a few suggestions based on personal experience and my opinion, but have you talked with your pastor, or another Christian mentor, about this? Such ongoing, face-to-face relationships are much more helpful than anything I could suggest in an email.

Online forums and message boards can be horrible places; apparently people think that they can dispense with normal human decency just because they’re hiding behind the anonymity of a screen name (and unfortunately it’s not only non-Christians who sometimes do this). Some people aren’t affected as much by this sort of online bullying, but when it starts to take an emotional toll, it may be time to take a step back and re-evaluate things.

The first thing I would suggest is taking a break from the debates. You say these people are hateful and insulting and have no interest in even an honest conversation, so there would be no loss in cutting off the exchange, at least for a while. Spend your time instead reading Scripture, praying, and spending time with fellow believers. Just doing this will go a long way toward ‘recharging your batteries’. Maybe meet with your pastor to discuss your involvement in these message boards (I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having someone ‘there with you’ to talk to).

Finally, you asked “how do you guys not constantly wonder if you are right, or constantly doubt yourselves?” I can only answer for myself. If I were arguing based on my own opinion, I couldn’t be nearly as certain. I’ve been wrong about a lot of things in the past, and I’m probably wrong about a lot of things now. But when it comes to creation/evolution, it’s not a matter of my opinion, but what God’s Word says. And not just in Genesis, but in Exodus 20, and 1 Corinthians 15, and Romans 5–8, and John 1, and all over the place in Scripture. The plain reading of Scripture, and of the overarching narrative in Scripture, requires a six-day creation around 6,000 years ago, a perfect Creation ruined by the sin of the historical first man, Adam. And I’m absolutely certain that Scripture is true. So while it may be wearying dealing with the constant attacks from skeptics, I never actually wonder if they’re right, because I’m grounded in Scripture, not in my own interpretive quirks. And I make sure to stay grounded in Scripture through personal Bible study and sitting under biblical preaching and teaching in my church.

I hope these few thoughts and suggestions are helpful.


Lita Cosner

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

D. W.
Hey guys. I was the one who wrote in with the question for CMI and I just wanted to say thank you for all of your responses they have been very encouraging. It is encouraging to know that there are others out there who are engaged in the same battles and to know that I am not alone. Thank you :).
E. K.
I used to be quite involved in online debate, and I've come to exactly the same conclusion that CMI has about debates in general - they're time-consuming, and their effectiveness is questionable at best. In high school I was taught to convince the judges of the debate, not the opponents, who are not supposed to concede their position. Since our debates are not merely debates but spiritual warfare, this principle must be modified before application. We should always seek to convince the other side, but never expect them to concede; with few exceptions debaters on the evolutionary side hold their position because they need it to justify their sin. Moreover, we should debate in the hope of convincing an onlooker. The belligerents committed to their positions before entering the fray; there remain only the kibitzers to be convinced one way or the other.

As to myself, I've taken an indefinite hiatus on this kind of debate. I do get persistently annoyed at the foolishness that self-professed thinkers (cf. Romans 1:21) proliferate, especially with all the soundbites, but if I pull the trigger (usually by linking to a CMI article - a very powerful technique!), I must commit to fighting the battle. Usually, I don't have the time and must pass on the opportunity.

My advice to fellow Christians: "A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the back of fools (Prov. 26:3)", not a dignified reply or a well-reasoned and well-constructed parry. When a fool spouts his foolishness, feel no compulsion to challenge him; do so only at your own liberty. "Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you (Prov 9:7-8)."
Wayne W.
A debate is one animal, but witnessing is an invitation. Those who troll are interested only in arguing.
I post simply by proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His coming Kingdom. Biblical truth is self-evident for those who seek-to-find. Receive Christ today and start the study of history, science and the Holy Bible with research. Great faith will come, as promised, to the open-hearted, open-minded who want to know truth.
Leo M.
I agree 100%. There is a verse that I apply with people that asks a question but truly are not looking for answers, or just look for an argument/discussion just because they can " What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? " Luk_15:4 . I move on to others with a clear conscience as I have tried to share Christ with them. I sometimes challenge them upfront before I answer, that if they realize that they have to change their view or behavior would they do so, if the answer is no, then I cannot be bothered as they are not true seekers of the Truth
B. O.
Thank you for another thoughtful response. This is why I really enjoy your site.
peter H.
Good advice Lita. I get involved in a discussion forum in the hope that there might be someone with an open mind reading, but often let them drop for a while.
As for talking to your pastor.....good idea if the pastor believes what the bible clearly teaches.....
Malik C.
This advice is wonderful. I've been going through similar online battles as well, though I've mainly given up as debating with people who are only interested in insulting you is rather pointless. I've never actually had an actual debate. Just one sided insults. If that actually ever happens though, I'll be sure to remember this advice. Even though I'm not the one who asked, I have to say thank you.
Alan J.
In addition to Lita's very helpful comments, it is important to remain calm and honest. I have recently been engage in a similar debate and "enthusiastic atheists" (their term) have come out to defend me (although not my beliefs) and reported the attacker to the moderators.
Cheri F.
Dear Lita:
Love the Virtual debates feedback article! You guys have written before encouraging those of us working in online apologetics and you've helped us again!
I'd like to see a thorough systematic discussion of the things we need to remember and focus on to keep up our strength and full coverage of armor. Your ministry seems to be the most open to such practical guidance.
Not only have I used many scriptural principles for running my creation science 4 kids facebook page, I also had the chance to encourage a worn out warrior with those same principles just after Christmas.
If you guys don't have time, I'd love to help write up a scriptural mental focus guide for online apologetics as soon as my book manuscript is done. :-)
In Christ's service,
Cheri Fields
PS Thank you so much for all the work you do. I'm using numerous articles from CMI to build my children's omnibus creation book. You guys get down to brass tacks (with bibliographies) the most often of any organization I've run into!
Paula S.
I've been getting in on these online creation/evolution debates off and on for about 10-12 years now. At first it was intimidating, mostly because my belief in creationism was more heart knowledge than head knowledge. In that situation you are definitely more prone to take the attacks from the other side personally and that does get very tiring indeed. But those debates led me to seek out knowledge, so that I read everything I could find on biology and genetics to the point that I enrolled in college in an animal science program. The more I learned about biology and especially genetics the more I realized the hopeless impossibility of Darwinian evolution. Armed with that kind of head knowledge, the evolutionists' best barbs had less and less effect, so that their insults become petty, childish and frankly boring. Even now as I continue to engage evolutionists it is almost stunning to me that none of them has anything original to say.
I know the doubt thats creeps in when your best comebacks and arguments fail to convince yourself much less others! But you will grow in that as you continue to learn and grow in God's word as well as in matters of science. I think the most important thing to remember is that this is a spiritual battle above all else. Evolution causes people to doubt God's word, and that doubt has been the most powerful weapon Satan has ever had, from the very beginning. I would read and meditate on Ephesians 6, and Paul's list of spiritual armor before jumping back into the fray, and don't let the enemy Satan intimidate you out of the battle!
Curtis C.
Having had a lot of experience with this, both as a normal debater and as a moderator, here's some of my advice.

First of all, make sure you've got that solid grounding so you know why you believe what you're saying before you even think about going out and saying it. When I experience attacks on God, and on me for standing up for Him, my mind goes back to all the reasons I know it to be true and to much of the detail of what it says.

Read how Jesus debated and what else the Bible says on it; there's no better advice!

If you feel upset or anything other than calm in response, do step back and wait. Think and analyze the -reasoning- in their post (if any), and respond when you feel you can do so calmly.

Forgive. This is absolutely vital. Remember you're going into this knowing they are lost and will show the symptoms of it, but you're hoping you can influence some to move towards salvation. You might never personally see the fruits of it in this life, with them. But someday in heaven, if they do accept Jesus in time, all of how they sinned against you will be forgiven by God and so you should too, especially since you're doing it out of love for them anyways. :)

Do consider you -might- be wrong on some points. We're not called to be stubborn, we're called to stand up for God's truth. Sometimes I find I've mixed some 'truth' of my own making into that and then I feel a duty to humbly admit that they at least seemed to have made a good point and I'll think about it, or if I honestly think they proved a side point wrong, I'll say so right then and there.

Get a strong logic education so you can know the difference.

Most importantly, remember to listen for the Spirit's guidance in all you do, and pray.
K. C.
DW, you have a real concern and you received a good response from Lita.

If you are "playing" with mudslingers you get dirty so don't do this solo. You need help deflecting some of that mud. Pray much about each message you write. If this is not ministry then it may only be madness. It is only God who can raise an iota of doubt in their minds not clever words.

As Lita said involve your pastor and other christian brothers for support. If you don't involve others the enemy will.
Limit your time. Take a vacation from it perhaps.

You be the leader. Don't let them control the direction. Stay on course. Keep bringing them back or else they wander. Most will see who sets the tone and worth following.

Remember, for some, God had to put handwriting on the wall before they "saw" it.
James M.
The truth can stand up to any attack. I'm happy to entertain doubts about anything I believe, including if Scripture is true. I also am very careful to check myself often for bias or self deception. That way I can be clear I am looking for truth and only holding on to what stands up to real scrutiny. This way I know what I can trust. I find the more I am willing to doubt everything but search and analyse, the clearer I am on what is true. There will be times when one argument seems to point in another direction and it is worth remembering where the weight of evidence lies (not being blown about by every wind of teaching) but I have certainly found that questioning all things and holding on to what is good and researching areas aiming at wisdom gives me clear confidence.
David S.
Lita; Thanks for the encouragement and wisdom. When criticized it helps to remember that I deserve every bit of it, plus the fire of hell for my sin. But, thanks be to God who sent his son to take my punishment. After reconsidering that; It's easier to remember the importance of grace and truth in argument and to pray for the immortal souls of those who hate Hate is word.

When I argue in pride hoping I win, I have already lost.
Ron F.
Lita, I really liked much of your email. But, I think it is great to emphasize that doubt is sometimes an indication of spiritual warfare. God brings Eph. 6 to mind in some of my times of doubt and even sorrow and it has been very profitable.
Dean D.
Christ tells us how to deal (or not deal) people who are obstinate and refuse to listen to evidence and believe. In Matthew 7:6 he says; "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces."

Paul faced similar problems when preaching the gospel in Corinth. He first went to the synagogue and reached out to the Jews in Corinth. He soon faced obstinate Jews. Acts 18:6 says "But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, "Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles." A careful reading of Acts shows this happening over and over again. Paul simply moves on to preach and teach to people who were willing to listen.

We have an obligation to reach out to the lost but when they refuse to listen to evidence, refuse to believe and become abusive it is time to move on.
Brian H.
I was going to comment before reading, but thought I should see what Lita said. I agree with Lita. So now I will give my original comment. PRAY PRAY PRAY. And if online blogging is bringing you down, stop. They are only doing the devil's bidding, and pulling you down to his level. Don't give him that satisfaction and success. And something I wouldn't have said, but I definitely agree - keep a few local "in person persons to keep you encouraged. I don't go searching for debates online, but take the opportunity face to face to talk about God and creation. People are far less brutal face to face.
Cowboy Bob S.
Excellent and very accurate article. As you said, we're right because we have the Word of God. And we *do* have to step away, because these people are under Satan's control, and our efforts are "in his face".

Sure, we can have some doubts. I'm not referring to the Bible, but to evidence. Things change, new data are found, better interpretations are made. Unfortunately, some people seem to live in fear because their faith is based on "proof" and evidence, not the Word. They seem to think that there is some kind of silver bullet "out there" that will destroy all of creation science, and even all of Christianity. I tell people like that to learn *how* to think critically, to read up on creation science materials, and especially to be grounded in the Word, where our faith is actually established.

At The Question Evolution Project, we have vicious trolls who attack creation science, God, the Admins and whatever else just for the sake of attacking. When some are banned, they make up new fake accounts, attack again, and get banned again. Their "morality" is based on their opinions. Our time is important. An administrator of a Page or forum does not need to defend his or her character, the purpose and mission, or go off-topic. Satan knows that our time is vitally important, and he uses his people to distract us and waste our time. Because of this, I have no qualms in avoiding time-consuming "debates" with people whose only purpose is to attack us, and they are quickly banned. People who have (seemingly) honest inquiries *do* get responses.

Yet, I have seen atheists give "honest" questions, only to brag to their friends about putting one over on us. Still, if it's public and important, others may learn from our responses.
Jonathan G.
In reference to my just-sent email: Evolution really is a faith-based position. Hence it's pretty much impossible to "win" a debate. The position is already taken regardless of the evidence.
Jonathan G.
Some quick thoughts and words of (hopefully!) encouragement:

1. Debating is a skill of it's own that is distinct from being right or wrong. One can "lose" a debate while being correct.

2. I generally avoid being drawn into debates, especially in online forums. Lita nails the reasons why.

3. You can tell when someone is genuinely seeking. Spend your time with those people.

4. Sometimes you do need to stand up and give an answer. Sometimes doing so is really for the benefit of those on the sidelines who are looking on but not actively engaged in the argument.

The most recent time I allowed myself to get into an online conversation was when the other guy was a friend and his antagonistic post seemed to me to really be a call for help. In that case, I focused on the idea that "Evolution is a faith-based position". Without an explanation for the beginning, the rest of the story does not matter. I stayed on point, not allowing the debate to wander. (Takes skill to do that).

Rather than debate, I mainly share what I read and learn with friends in a way that doesn't pressure them. For example, I liked Spike Psarris DVDs so much that I recently gave several as gifts. No one was offended. No debates ensued. I just gave the gifts and let the chips fall where they may.

Debating is stressful. Not every encounter needs to be a full-on debate. Sometimes it's enough to just share a tidbit with someone and leave the rest to the Lord.
David B.
Way to go Lita,I also am most encouraged by this ministry. The word of God Is infallible because God is infallible. Many thanks to you and the Team, may your tribe increase.
A. R.
Again, thanks for some wise advice, Lita. I'd completely agree. I remember a debate I got into with some atheists online a while back. Another Christian told the atheists quite bluntly that they were being closed minded, and told me I should stop debating because no-one was really thinking about what we were saying. I was bending over backwards to be polite and self controlled.

The atheists made a point that I didn't have an answer to at the time, so I went away to read things up. I went back, all prepared to answer their point. When I got back, I found that they had spent all the time I was away mocking these Christian "idiots". I realised that the other Christian had been right. There was no point arguing, no matter how valid my points were, because no-one was listening. As I read the posts, I saw a mob of people who were too busy congratulating themselves on how superior they were to these Christian "idiots" to even think about anything contrary to what they believed. I didn't bother telling them what I'd found. There was no point. I would have been "casting pearls before swine". I certainly didn't want to give them any more excuse to mock God.

Don't lose heart, DW. Choose your battles wisely. Sometimes, it's maybe better to make one or two thoughtful comments which might make an honest, open person think, then leave. Don't stay on if things get nasty. Tell people politely that you don't want to join in mud slinging. If they want to interpret that as cowardice, it's their loss. Occasionally, you'll find someone who's willing to think. Spend your time on them, and pray that God will intervene. And make sure you keep yourself close to God and well spiritually watered. Maybe it would be more profitable to spend your time getting your friends to think.
Eileen T.
When people get abusive/bullying in debates then they show they are not really interested in the Truth. The Lord Jesus Christ told his disciples to shake the dust from their feet if they were not welcomed. We should be aware of our old enemy the Devil trying to dishearten and confuse us and we need to put on our armour. You are so right ... time is better spent building yourself up in the Lord and His word in order to face the battle.
Erik W.
I sympathize with D.M. I've been extensively involved in online debates on facebook and my university forum. I had lots of energy to explain things to people there initially, but over time they actually got worse and worse, and it makes no sense rationally -- the Biblical answer that they oppose you because they love their sin and, really, hate you for telling them the truth because it directly implies that there is an Authority to whom they're accountable, and they don't want to be. So after a while, I found that in-person exchanges are often more productive, because people can't hide behind an internet connection. The things they say and the way they behave is just too embarrassing to do in person. They would slink away in shame if they tried it (most of them). So my personal journey has now led me to where I'm trying to engage more people in my daily life, and while I can't resist the ease of an internet exchange due to the ready access to apologetics resources, I am minimizing my indulgence in that area of life. This is for my own benefit, and it's also because at a certain point, explaining in vain why someone is wrong becomes "casting pearls before swine / giving to dogs what is holy." Surely after the 10th time or 3 months of persistent attempts, you should be free to leave the unfertile ground and try sowing in different soil.

:) Don't be discouraged! A great song about being encouraged when people reject you is the parody song "Wherever You Will Sow," by Apologetix. I encourage you to listen to it. God bless, everyone!
David G.
Even Jesus, who was constantly harrassed by the so-called spiritual leaders, needed to come away and spend time in personal one-on-one communion with His Father. How much more for us who are so easily swayed and lead into doubt do we need reinforcement of our beliefs and objectivity. Thank you Lita for wise counsel.
Rhonda S.
Dear Lita, well done what wisdom from God you replied to a person that shared their fears and concerns, your respect and love for another showed through. God bless you. Rhonda
V. M.
Very sound advice from Lita: be grounded in Scripture! Online debates (or any debates for that matter) often amount to manipulation by the cunning over the prudent, not necessarily right over wrong. The person one debates won’t change his or her mind anyway so why bother? Salvation is brought about by conviction not persuasion. However, for the sake of onlookers it could be good to engage in some debates, bearing 1 Peter 3:15 in mind. It is equally fine to exit an online debate when people start mudslinging. As disciples of Jesus, we have to defend the Faith once entrusted for all (Jude 1:3), but also realise when it is time to shake the dust off our feet and walk away (Luke 9:5).
J. A.
Such a wonderful response!
Andrew R.
With the help of CMI, I have been defending my beliefs on-line since October, 2008. I have learned much along the way, and can genuinely empathise with D.W. I find it difficult to step back from a debate for I feel that gives the impression that I am unable to provide an answer to the latest challenge, but that does not mean that I am trapped in a frustrating situation, suffering continual abuse. Abusive comments, I have found, are the easiest to deal with, using logic. I simply remind the person that they are trying to defend their faith, and if all they have to defend that faith is abusive commenting then their position is weak.
The problem is though, abusive language is only a small part of the frustrating side of debating. What I find most effective in leading people to the truth is not so much the abilty to defend my beliefs, but rather, the abilty to make my oponent doubt their own beliefs. It works well, but it can easily lead to a frustrating game of 'Whack-A-Mole'. That is, as claims for evidence for Darwinistic evolution are quickly knocked down, new claims keep popping up. Even so, asking for a concession on each point, and trying to hold the conversation to more general themes.

However, there is an even greater frustration that I have not yet overcome, that is, feeling like a 'Lone Ranger' I continually point out that 'majority rule' has nothing to do with science, but that does not prevent others from playing that card. Than in itself is frustrating, but what makes it even more so is the lack of numbers amongst fellow Christians to realise the importance of this ministry and lend their support to D.W. and others.
I for one would be happy to lend my support (can my details be past on?) and I pray that others do the same in supporting those supporting CMI

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