Originally posted: http://bendench.blogspot.com/2009/05/some-words-on-method.html
Dialogue is very important. The purpose of a debate is to win—but the purpose of a dialogue is to increase understanding. It's non-adversarial in nature. The other person is your friend. You want to learn from them, and teach them, and come to a common understanding. There are no losers.
Consider the following, based on an email I sent a friend of mine in response to his story about how he converted to Christianity:
I would like to say, first of all, that I both respect you and regard your experience as legitimate. From my point of view, the question is not whether or not spiritual experiences are real, but rather how to go about interpreting those experiences.
[My friend relates being raised in what he describes as a faith-neutral home, with no discussion of spirituality either positive or negative.]
You’ve heard of a power vacuum: if a region looses its leadership, it can create an unstable situation in which any group can come and step in. Well, I think there is also such a thing as a spiritual vacuum. When people grow up without any spiritual experiences, they look for anything to fill that void. In our society, I think there is a great deal of spiritual illiteracy. Spiritual experiences are marginalized. There is a type of underground, but there is no oversight. People are taught to separate critical thinking and spiritual experiences as a matter of principle. And this is detrimental to a genuine understanding of how the universe works.
[My friend relates how he use to believe the Bible was false and pointless, but that he had a moving experience attending church with a friend of his. He was impressed by the music and the message presented there, and was moved by their discussion of the Bible's cohesiveness despite being written by many authors over many centuries.]
Often times fundamentalist apologists make claims that seem convincing on the surface but which, upon further study, fall apart. Tobin does a good job presenting the general mainstream scholarly responses to popular apologetic claims in an article specifically targeting these: