In order to convert the faithful into non-believers, it's important to avoid discussing God and religion altogether, a group of some 200 atheists learned Saturday morning.
Instead, atheists need to politely punch holes in believers' faith and the lack of evidence they have in that belief, said Peter Boghossian, a philosophy professor from the University of Portland.
"Do not target God in your interventions,"
Boghossian told a packed auditorium at the Kamloops Convention Centre. "One thing that will happen is people will become very argumentative."
Once people are argumentative, the conversation is over, he said. Not only that, but atheists have only addressed the symptom and not the "underlying illness" that led to their belief.
Boghossian was one of the first to speak during a three-day Imagine No Religion conference hosted by the Kamloops Centre for Rational Thought.
The conference attracted guests and lecturers from across Canada and Washington and Oregon states to talk science, rational thinking and the dark side of religion.
Boghossian's lecture outlined a controversial — to the faithful at least — guide on how to convert believers into non-believers. He approaches faith as a virus or cognitive sickness.
To stop it, one must put an end to the unhealthy thought process with logic and reason, he said.
"These discussions are opportunities to help those who have caught the faith virus move from unreason to reason," said Boghossian. "It's about changing the way people form beliefs."
He said faith is a method people use to come to knowledge. People say they know Jesus Christ walked on water because the Bible tells them so.
"They believe that it's true."
Boghossian noted that people of different religions claim to know mutually exclusive facts, like the Mormons' Joseph Smith is a prophet or Muhammad is a prophet in Islam. Yet the Mormons maintain the Muslims are wrong and the Muslims say the Mormons are wrong.
"Faith leads directly to their experience of claiming to know," he said.
The best way to reach believers is through kindness and respect, said Boghossian. By doing so, one can deliver a message that faith is unreliable.
Believers will counter that faith is needed for morality — that faith makes one a good person. He said it's important not to get sidetracked.
"Hitler was an atheist. I hear that about once a day," said Boghossian. "One of faith's defensive mechanisms is that any challenge to it is immoral, so it's important that we divorce faith for morality."
People are often ready to change their beliefs, but are afraid doing so makes them a bad person, he said. At that point, it's important to focus on faith as an unreliable way to gain knowledge.
The conference wrapped up Sunday night.