Sam Harris' books (The End of Faith, and Letter to a Christian Nation) are a pleasure to read, for an atheist (at least for me, anyway). The arguments are so clear and articulate, and he directs his attention to many of the really important issues. I am pretty sure that quite a few Christians have read his work or heard him speak, and yet very few of them were converted or otherwise persuaded by his discussion. I spend a lot of time pondering how this can be. I have a few ideas. Here is one of them. For most people their religion is intensely personal, and includes a core certainty that is not really subject to question. For them, religions arguments are simply side-stepped by a sense that their religion is not like that. The arguments are really about other people's religion.
Is there any solution to this problem? In many cases the core certainty is simply too strong, and comes with a community support system that helps prevent any serious doubts. It may be possible, however, to engage the derivative beliefs by engaging them one-on-one such that the discussion is personal, and, in so far as possible, non-confrontational. I have the idea that if someone takes the time to think about what their personal god is like and what (s)he actually does in the world, then people can be shown that there are mistakes in their specific view. If the belief system can be stripped away, then the core belief might become more fragile. If a person somehow agreed that god was irrelevant, but despite that, still existed, then is not such a person already an atheist in some sense?