François-Marie Arouet, best known under his pseudonym Voltaire, knew a thing or two about reason, rhetoric and argument. No stranger to controversy, he got into an argument with an important nobleman- the chevalier de Rohan- who later had Voltaire beaten up by his servants. Voltaire challenged the chevalier to a duel and was promptly imprisoned in the Bastille, but released on condition that he go into exile in England where he wrote Letters on English politics and religion and later published in France as his Philosophical Letters: letters concerning the English nation in 1734.
In the Philosophical Letters, Voltaire recounts an argument with an English Quaker over how Quakers could call themselves Christians, never having been baptized. After the Quaker selectively quoted Biblical Scripture about the Apostle Paul’s circumcision of his disciple Timothy, and asked whether Voltaire was himself circumcised, Voltaire wryly replied that “I had not had that honor.”
Rather than prolonging an exercise in futility, Voltaire’s advice remains àpropos today as it did in the 18th century:
“I took care not to dispute anything he said, for there’s no arguing with an Enthusiast. Better not take it into one’s head to tell a lover the faults of his mistress, or a litigant the weakness of his cause — or to talk sense to a fanatic. And so I went on to other questions.”