I recently have been doing some debating at DDO (debate.org) with conspiracy theorists, theists and pseudo scientists and through these encounters I have learnt a thing or two about debating non-rational thinkers. A such, I thought I would share my core tips with you for debating non rational thinkers.
First and foremost and probably more important than anything else, define the words you are going to be using in a debate. If the debate is about aliens define aliens as extraterrestrials, otherwise you will hear about illegal immigrants. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean.
Recently I was involved in a debate about scientific theories been equivalent to fact, and the only thing I learnt from this debate is that it is best to define what fact means before the debate begins. Basically, the whole debate descended into what is a fact and that there are no such things as fact as everything can be proven to be wrong scientifically as this is what the scientific method means. Was this ploy disingenuous? Yes, but there was nothing wrong with the argument except that the debate should never have happened if this is the tactic that was going to be employed.
In another debate, I got involved in semantics about what is a god. Again completely disingenuous as the debate was structured in a way that was clear that god referred to the modern day concept of god i.e. omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. Since then I clarify what I mean by god, and many people are no longer prepared to debate me. The reason for this is simple as they can no longer play the what kind of god card, but actually have to defend their god. I think the Atheist Experience does this well, when they ask "what do you believe and why?" it immediately makes you define your position from which a rational discussion can be made.
The other thing I am learning is something that Cephus often talks about, and that is knowing when to let go. Often, you just have to cut the person loose as they will deny science, the weather and the colour of the sky to try win a debate. At this point, its easier to cut your losses and not engage anymore.
Hope these two tips help you stop face palming.