What Would Make You Believe?(Three Questions for Atheists)

Posted on March 23, 2011. Filed under: Apologetics, Atheism, Religion |

Believe it or not, not every blog I frequent is a skeptical one.  In fact, if you have been paying attention to this blog over the last month or so, this fact seems redundant given my three posts on Universalism.  One of the blogs I frequent is Truth In Religion and Politics, authored by John Barron Jr.-and his most recent post asks three questions of his atheist readers.

The post, entitled Three Questions For Atheists, is a call for atheists to give him some answers as to what might make us believe in a God and more specifically the Christian God.  He has assured me in the post that he is not accepting pithy remarks from Christians about what they think would convince an atheist and in this spirit of good faith, I offered my own answers.  I suggest that you read the original post, but I will pose and answer the three questions here, followed by a brief commentary regarding his response to my answers in his comment section.  My answers here are worded a bit differently, with parts added for clarity and some references to other commenters removed.

Three Questions For Atheists

1.What would it take, or what would have to happen for you to abandon your position of atheism and come to a theistic view; not just an agnostic possibility of God, but an actual belief that a Deity does exist?

It would take evidence.  I think that for me empirical evidence would be the best possible way to believe in anything, but I’m willing to concede that that it is neither necessary nor expected.  Although empirical evidence would be ideal, I don’t think in this particular case it is always reasonable. I also have to admit that there are many things that I believe on some level of evidence that is shy of empirical. In fact most things I believe meet this criteria in some sense.

I have not, for example, seen the molecules in the atmosphere that scatter blue light and make the sky appear blue, but I safely assert that this is precisely why the sky is blue. I do this because the scientific basis for that fact makes other useful predictions that I can test against reality.
So my ability to accept any form of theism would be dependent on that belief meeting some basic criteria.

To appeal to the twitter crowd I’ve boiled it down to ‘The 4 C’s’:
a) The belief cannot contradict any facts that I am aware of-and I guess, philosophically, that I’m not aware of as well.(It is Consistent)
b) the belief should have some sense of necessity. (It has Context)
c) the belief must offer some predictive advantage over alternate hypotheses (It is Convenient)
d) It appeals to facts instead of unknowns (It is Credible)

If an epistemology can meet these criteria, then it is worth holding, regardless of empirical (in the scientific sense) verification.
So if it could be shown to me that theism met those criteria, I would have to admit that it was the most plausible epistemology.

2.What would it take for you to believe Christianity is true?

For Christianity Proper to be true, it would have to meet the same criteria I outlined above.

Given those criteria, I must assume that any other faith would be eliminated by the mere act of a Christian heuristic confirming those criteria, though I could be mistaken on that. That question depends on how large a scope we allow to be defined as “Christianity”

3.Why would your answers to the above be sufficient to convince you theism is true, and that Christianity was true?

These criteria would be sufficient to convince me of any strongly held belief, and is the minimum basic standard I hold for every belief that I consider a gnostic one.

The 4 C’s

a) It is Consistent-  Any idea worth holding should not contradict reality.  For example, evolution- based on a wealth of evidence- is a reality.  There are no serious criticisms that can stand contrary to the fact of evolution.  Given this, any belief I hold cannot contradict evolution, and if it did, it would have to be coupled with a very complete factual refutation of evolution as I understand it.  This does not discount deism, or even certain kinds of Christianity, but it certainly discounts some forms of theism.  I would also discount a religion or God who insisted that gravity was an illusion, for instance.  No epistemology is worth holding if it happens to contradict other observable and/or verifiable phenomena.

b) It has Context-  I am a big believer in the necessity of an idea.  Again, any epistemology worth holding should be based on that belief being both necessary and parsimonious.  I don’t, for example, believe that there is a flying teapot just out of view of any human observation that controls all gravity in our universe.  I don’t believe this because it is not necessary, as gravity has an explanation, and extremely convoluted.  This particular point stands as a firm refutation of Presuppositional morality, which although is grounded in explaining the fact of morality, is neither necessary nor parsimonious in how it attempts to give an explanation.  I imagine that Context is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for any form of theism.

c)It is Convenient-  If any belief claims to have or by necessity must have some testable or predictive quality, then that belief should by rights be the most reasonable and useful means to make predictions about the world we live in.  Again, I don’t necessarily consider this a knock against deism or some forms of Christianity, because there are many versions of both that make no claims of predictive ability.  That something is not predictive doesn’t make it by necessity wrong, but it certainly diminishes the probability that it is true;  in the case of some forms of theism that are by necessity of their claims predictive and are incapable of making meaningful predictions- well that pretty clearly makes them in some sense false.

d) It is Credible-  There is an adage that absence of evidence is evidence of absence.  I will caution that it is not proof of absence, but it is very much evidence of it.  When something is postulated as a conjecture, as a possibility that rests-not on facts- but as an explanation of some necessary but unknown process that explains an observation then that idea stands incomplete.  Why must I postulate a higher power if some event, like meeting an old friend, needs to be considered?  Things like the feeling of cosmic coincidence are based more on the unknown probabilities that any meaningful event might occur rather than the fact that a meaningful event did occur.  I require of any reasonable epistemology that it be based on some kind of hard facts as opposed as a simplistic explanation of something that is unknown.  Credibility is the other point that I think theism has difficulty overcoming.

How Were My Answers Received?

In a few words…not well.  I didn’t really expect much better.  Here is his response to me in the comment thread:

I am looking for more specificity as to what it would take. If you could provide an example of an event or something which you would find compelling. Of course we all to one degree or another require a coherence or degree of logical soundness. I’m trying not to restrict the answers, but I also don’t want vague references to epistimological criteria, if you know what I mean.

Also the answer to #2 should be different than the answer to #1, they are two different questions. For example if it would require a vision of a grey-haired giant saying “I am God and I exist”, that same event doesn’t necessarily lead to Christianity. So specifically what would lead you to theism, generally? And what would lead you to Christianity specifically?

And I would like some fleshing out in regards to #3. For example, say again if it was a grey-haired giant who appeared, why would that event convince you?

I know it probably sounds like I’m nitpicking and trying to steer your answers, I’m just really looking to get as specific as possible.

I would answer these criticisms thus: If I were more specific then I would not be honest.  These criteria are the specific things that would make me believe any claim made by any person under any circumstances.  To make one specific example would be to ignore the infinite amount of other examples that would lead me to the exact same conclusion.  I honestly believe that faced with any idea that suited my four criteria, I would consider it a gnostic belief.

The purpose, to me, of making more specific examples is to point them out as impossible or unreasonable- and this is precisely my point.  Any claim that doesn’t fall into my four criteria is, to me, unreasonable.  Since philosophically I don’t believe that theism can reasonably meet all four of these postulates, I reasonably deduce that there is no God-and if there is one- that He is both unnecessary and so different from any reasonable definition of “a God” as to make the word without meaning.  That is precisely why I am an atheist.  If I gave you an example of a very specific thing that would make me believe, then it will likely seem unreasonable.  Because I believe theism is unreasonable.  I’ll try nonetheless…..

Let us assume that I was out for a stroll with 4 of my closest atheist friends.  Let’s call them Dan, Jeremy, Jason, and Sidney.  We come across an empty field, when suddenly the field spontaneously sets ablaze with the words “I am Your God”.  Jason turns to me and says “The farmer who owns this field has one of those annoying religious signs on his property facing the highway, he obviously is trying to fool us into thinking that this is a Sign…” We all agree and keep walking.  Then the field, as suddenly as it caught fire, suddenly goes out.  “Amazing!”, says Jeremy, “but I work around chemicals every day that are flammable but burn quickly and do not damage the surface they were lit on…” I find this a little unnerving, as plants are pretty flammable, but it is still a more reasonable explanation then imagining that God did it.  Again, we keep walking forward, when suddenly an ominous figure with robes and a beard rises before all our eyes in front of us on the path.  “I am Jesus, God manifest on Earth, and I implore you to follow me” says the spirit.  Sydney turns and says “I blogged about that new holographic technology last week, and I’ll tell you that I could recreate this exact phenomenon.”   Now I am beginning to get disconcerted.  It seems unreasonable to assume that a farmer would go to all this trouble to convert a few atheists, and these explanations, though somewhat believable on their own, seem to be straining my credulity.  Finally, each one of us hears a very specific message from the spirit of Jesus, mine says “George, remember that time that you saw that shadow by the window in your room that looked like a person? That was me.  I was watching over you that night”.  Jason turns to me and says “Did you hear that?  Not only did the spirit know my name, but He knew that I wet my bed when I was seven!  How could anyone know that?”,  Dan says, “Though I heard it too, and the message was specifically to me, I am aware of many instances of group delusions, and considering the primer that we all had, it is not unreasonable to think our minds are getting the best of us.”  See, at this point, I am a firm believer in Christ.

Why?  I have many avenues of evidence, believing any other possibility would break at least one of my four rules.  I have never seen a spirit before, so nothing in proposition (a) is contradicted; I necessarily need a parsimonious explanation, so it meets criteria (b); the belief that Christ is real predicts more of these events than any other belief, so it has met (c); and my belief is grounded more on the facts of the events than on probabilistic unknowns, thus I have met criteria (d).  Does this sound completely impossible?  Absolutely.

Would this event make me deny evolution? No.  So I would be an OE theistic evolutionist.  Would I believe presuppositional apologetics? Nope.  I would believe in Christ, that He lived and died for our sins, and that is about it.

Is there an easier way for me to believe in God? Definitely.  Is there a more reasonable way for me to come to Christ?  Sure.  But any trip from point Atheism to point Belief will entail every one of my four points.  I could ruminate for hours about what the simplest way would be.  It could even be a very personal experience, like having some event happen that could best be explained by a God or Jesus.  I don’t need independent verification, but it certainly makes the evidence more valuable.

What if I had witnessed a miracle?  Of course I would believe, though my threshold for a miracle is a lot higher then it is for a theist.  If my mother had cancer, and emerged from treatment cancer-free, I don’t necessarily consider that miraculous.  Many theists do, because they are looking for miracles-not statistics.

What about John’s point in his comments regarding the difference in evidence between question 1 and question 2?  Should there really be a difference in the evidence.  Well, yes.  Oh, and no.  Yes the evidence will be different for the two proposed questions but it should by rights be of equal value.  If I accept weak evidence for theism but discount similar evidence for Christianity then I am a hypocrite.  Any burden I hold one claim to I must hold all claims to- if they are to be of equal value.  So no John, the same degree of evidence that I would accept for one I would accept for the other and there is no contradiction there.

I also think I fleshed out the answer to question #3 with my comments above, but just to reiterate- my burden of proof will always be the same.  The circumstances will vary, but the process is always the same.  Those criteria I listed Consistency-Context-Convenience-Credibility are always necessary to me.  Do I hold some opinions without those criteria?  Yep.  Do I claim them to be facts or truths or unshakable? Nope.

You asked me for my opinion and I’m giving it.  God is unreasonable, and any specific event I give you that would make me change my mind would by nature be unreasonable.  If I could come up with a reasonable proof than I would be saying God is reasonable.

Any questions?

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55 Responses to “What Would Make You Believe?(Three Questions for Atheists)”

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Just so you know, I have no intention on responding to any Atheists answers on the post. As I had said I plan to write a follow up article on my take on the answers, and it was important for me to get as honest and specific answers as I could. And so I was not criticizing your response, or accusing you of being vague or evasive. I just wanted more specificity. Like the example I gave of a vision or something like the words “Made by God” on a strand of DNA. But I don’t want to tell you how to answer, if you cant be more specific, then so be it. It’s ok with me, It’s your answer.

But yes, not only are no pithy answers from Christians allowed, no answers from Christians at all are allowed, and I can tell you there have been a few.

John,
I want you to know that I was serious when I said that I appreciate you trying to engage atheists honestly. I also want you to know that although I can’t always say that I respect your ideas and opinions, I definitely respect your personality as a theist. You are sharp witted, philosophical, and generally more fair than many of your contemporaries. I hope you take the time to read this post and also the response I posted on your blog to your plea for more specificity. I think I have been more specific, but I implore you to not consider my example The Only proof I would accept. That is why I tried to be specific without being too specific.
You never know, maybe my link will get you more feedback. I am a contributor for Planet Atheism you know…..

I’m ripping around my place getting ready for my trip, and this post stopped me in my tracks. I probably didn’t read it as closely as I could have if I were less busy, but it’s a good one. I’m likely going to reblog it over at le café.

Cheers.

Can you think of any event or state of affairs which would satisfy all four criteria? I see nothing unreasonable at all in your criteria, now I’d like an example of something which would fulfill them.

I gave the specific example of a personal miracle. More specific?
Let’s say that I am on an airplane, cruising at 30,000 ft., and an engine cuts out and the plane goes into a tailspin. The plane crashes and contrary to every law of physics and biology I am aware of, everyone survives. That would seem to be awfully incredible. If I spent some time looking into the crash and there is no reasonable explanation that can explain how that happened, then I would be a believer. Again, in this case God is necessary to not contradict facts, so this satisfies (a) and (b), and this intervention would be more predictive than assuming this is a regular occurrence (c), and I have based my opinion on facts (d) by investigating the circumstances as opposed to just assuming the miracle upfront. That is just one circumstance. There are an infinite number, as I said.

If, for example, we wanted to use this same example to prove Christianity, let’s say that a group of Baptists calls me into a prayer circle as the plane is going down, and we pray together as the plane goes down. Well, if every one of us in that prayer circle survives, and that fact doesn’t coincide with being in the safest part of the plane, then I would be compelled to believe in Christianity in some sense.

I don’t really think that it even needs to be this substantial. If Christianity was not contrary to facts (a)-so we could drop a literal interpretation of Genesis, for example…..AND I could see some necessity in postulating a God (b)…..AND I could be given some way to help strengthen that belief (c)-like historical evidence and/or predictive qualities……AND this could be reasoned to me by facts and not by appeals to unknowns and incredulity (d)…..THEN I would accept a Christian God. This has not been done. Not by some very gifted ministers and pastors and teachers and laypeople that I have known in my life. I always find something missing, there is always this nagging suspicion that faith is a shortcut. That is why I reject it. Not because I haven’t witnessed a miracle and not because I haven’t gone searching. I am, as any of my religious friends will attest, in some sense a “spiritual savant”- I understand faith, I respect it, I get it…very deeply. I just do not believe it. I am not trying to tell you that you are wrong when I engage you John, I’m asking you questions that I ask myself…I’m questioning how you got to your conclusion, because I feel I have ample evidence and came to a completely different one.

this is what I was looking for. Would it be too much for me to ask that you post this in my comment section?

Will do, John.
And thank you for starting this discussion.

On another note, you may want to visit Oscars blog soon….I addressed Lamont.
It hasn’t been approved yet though….

As I’m on my coffee break at work right now I have to be really, really brief.
Seriously, George, in your propositional tale of the fiery field and the spectre that could easily have been a demonic force that was attempting to sway you away from the One True Spaghetti Monster.
Oh ye of little faith – can’t you see the FSM was only testing you? No beer volcano for you!
(I’ll be back later tonight to add my own thoughts and complain about not being included in your little though experiment. Surely you could have included a jerk that just makes smartass comments and rarely contributes to the actual content of a discussion?)

Sinned,
Since I only know you by your nom de plume, I couldn’t use your name in the post. But I did name one of them “Sydney”, which was meant to be the closest I could get to “Sinned” without giving one of them a ridiculous name. So really, you were in that story….
And you are correct, the “field experiment” (pun intended) could have been a clever trick by the Spaghetti Monster’s nemesis, the Antipasto. Yet this would entail theism still, so I guess I’d be theist but not Christian. Damn.

Yay, I feel validated!
I crafted a response in my head to the theist’s question of what would get me to convert before I read your response or any of the comments here, since I didn’t want my reply to be coloured by the opinions of greater thinkers than I.
If I don’t dig into the new keg of dark ale I put in the kegerator Sunday, I’ll drop by to post it. This is the problem with being a west coast man: I’m always late to the party!

1. Repentance and a miracle.
2. A miracle and willingness.
3. Only by an act of God and a willingness to want the truth would convince an Atheist that he is currently wrong.

“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;” ~2 Corinthians 10:5

“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” ~1 Corinthians 2: 14

The most important thing to remember is that repentance comes BEFORE knowledge of truth, not after: 2 Timothy 2:24-26

As a Christian, its my position that God has revealed Himself to all mankind so that we can know for certain who He is. Those who deny His existence are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness to avoid accountability to God. It is the ultimate act of rebellion against Him and reveals the professing atheist’s contempt toward God.

Oh, Dan….
I thought you had forgotten about me! Yet, here you are!
I knew, somehow, you would come back. I guess your interpretation of the Bible says that. If I read Romans 9 then I could argue it is not my fault at all I guess.
I could tell you that God chose to harden me in order to teach people like you a lesson.
In that case, would I not be disrespecting God if I opened my heart to him?
Would my repentance and willingness not be an affront to His sovereignty?
Let’s discuss the options here, because I think you’re wearing your Bible blinders right now…..

Hello George – I’ve read your pages for a few weeks now and I appreciate your perspective on the religious discussions. I’m the guy who got banned from John’s site. I’m still amazed to this day that he has yet to ever defend his position and explain WHY he believes what he believes. His tactic is to constantly attack skeptics by demanding a counter-assertion so he can argue that… I’m really interested in truly discovering how the religious mind thinks…
my quest continues.

You got banned because you cannot control yourself. You can’t have a civil discussion for too long before mockery and name calling surface. You got banned because you consistantly venture off topic…just like you did here! This post has nothing to do with John Barron’s views but you couldn’t refrain from making it about me!

Why don’t you criticize me for not posting baking recipes? Why don’t you criticize me for not having up-to-date NCAA brackets? You know why?

Because my blog is primarily about investigating religious/philosophical and political ideas different from my own through the lens of the Christian/my worldview, not primarily an apologetics site defending Christianity proper or my particular religious view.

Of course in my commentaries criticizing other’s views, my view is implicitly expressed. So perhaps one day this is something you will recognize.

No, Jr – wrong again.
The context of this discussion is to try to understand what an individual believes and why they believe it.

The very title of your site and the tone you take against any of the comments posted there are filled with your bias which you feel you never have to defend. Although you claim your blog is about “investigating”, it is merely to attack what others say without ever justifying your beliefs to others when they question it. To do so is to go “off-topic” as you incessantly whine about.

My comment to George is one of appreciation for trying to get to the heart of the matter.

Now, Now, Boys!
This is really not the place. Z was just introducing himself, John, and though everything past sentence number 2 was a superfluous pot-shot, I am glad that he clarified from whence he came.
I also appreciate that you gave some context to the situation as well, but you are just as guilty as he of making gratuitous low-blows after the first paragraph.
While I sympathize philosophically with the atheist position, I will not allow this blog to be a Colosseum for throwing Christians to the lions-unless that Christian is overtly taunting them, as Dan did in his comment. Then, it’s fair game.(props to sinned for the smackdown)
zqtx- I am glad you found your way here and I hope that I can expect your contribution to my comments in the future. I must say that I am a little surprised that you find John to be That Kind of Christian. Those Christians exist (see Dan in this thread), but I have found that John is far from perfect yet reasonable and fair. I admit my frustrations with his style of argument and agree that he can sometimes try to place his fellow interlocutor in a no-win proposition. Yet he doesn’t shout bible verses, and he doesn’t damn me to hell at every turn, and he doesn’t go off-thread, and he doesn’t respond to arguments by constantly restating an identical position.
So I would say that in toto, he can leave much to be desired -but overall is a desirable dissenting voice. If you respect the opinions of those who disagree then he is better than most. Even if he is always wrong. 😉

John,

>>You got banned because you cannot control yourself. You can’t have a civil discussion for too long before mockery and name calling surface.

Remember John, this could be a good thing too, all the glory to God. That is why I leave all moderation off and let them spew anything they wish.

Their actions actually help draw people to Christ. Wahoo, for angry Atheists!

Atheists lead God to Christ better then some preachers by merely opening their mouths. Let free speech reign.

Blessings,
Dan

Dan,
I’ll follow your link to your fix of Romans 9 and get back to you. I still consider you a gigantic joke. Seriously, has anyone here ever seen someone so entirely enamored with their own opinions? Dan has never linked to a single ‘fact’ or article that is not on his own site. If that was one or two links we were talking about then maybe I could call it coincidence. But you have spammed links on almost every single comment, Dan, and nary a one directs us anywhere but to your own website and your own opinion. It’s positively ridiculous. Many people here actually go to the trouble of finding information that corroborates their points, rather than just linking to themselves soapboxing on the issue. This, Dan, is not vitriolic, or passive-aggressive…I’m giving you constructive criticism. You cannot be taken seriously when you act like that. Not here, not on your site, not in the real world. Rest assured that when I call you a joke, that I mean it. Me and my friends use your name as a punch-line. The more you keep communicating in this way the more people are going to be in on the giant joke that is Dan the Debunker! I would put money that before this thread is done even John Barron Jr. will be using you as a punch line. He is far to smart to put even a few of his intellectual eggs in your basket weaved of nonsense and self-obsession.
Yet your opinion is still welcome here. For now, at least. I just want you to understand that some of the mocking you receive is a direct result of your ineffectual communication.

I need to clarify that last statement. Dan HAS provided three links so far that ARE NOT directed to his website. I thought I might concede this before he brings it up. That said, he has provided 20+links on this site, so I think my greater point stands; but he is not solely using his own site links, just roughly 90% of the time. Would you read a blog that always linked to itself to circularly prove it’s point?
I wouldn’t. Would you trust a paper by an author who referenced his own works 90% of the time? I wouldn’t. Would you?

George, that’s pretty much why I didn’t go crawling for links to support my claims that Christians (even evangelical ones) are leaving churches in droves last night. I figured spending some quality time with the wife was more important than digging for proper data for somebody who’s more than likely to avoid responding directly to any points I make.
I’m not holding my breath, but I’ll wait to see if Dan brings anything more substantive here than his Way Of The Master-esque method of appealing to emotion rather than intellect.

George,

>>If I read Romans 9 then I could argue it is not my fault at all I guess.

Well you would be wrong then. I know you will not listen to all 7 parts, but you might want to (pretty please with sugar) check out 4:45 of part 7 for your answer.

Their actions actually help draw people to Christ. Wahoo, for angry Atheists!

Atheists lead God to Christ better then some preachers by merely opening their mouths. Let free speech reign.

That’s one anecdote amongst many, and for every strident atheist that pushes someone into Christianity I’ll wager we could find dozens of anecdotes that show how condescending Christians shove people away from their faith.
More interesting would a discussion about how the “none” group (no religious affiliation, which is not the same as atheism, but shows a great disdain for “organized” religion, particularly Christianity) of religion is the fastest growing segment of the North American (and European) populations.
I’m at work right now, but I’ll be happy to find links to the stats when I get home that show people leaving the various Christian sects like never before, and polls that show many evangelical doctrines like the militant stance against homosexuality are causing people (particularly teens and young adults) to distrust Christianity in record numbers.

Sinned34,

>>Christianity I’ll wager we could find dozens of anecdotes that show how condescending Christians shove people away from their faith.

How do you know this? How are you certain, so much you are willing to wager? Even though I am not a gambling man, I will take that bet, because I cannot lose that one. I will bet the farm. Sure things are not gambling, at least that is my justification. :7)

You see, as I pointed out in an older post, ” 1 John 2:19 “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” THEY WOULD HAVE REMAINED if they were really Christians to begin with.”

Once a Christian he will never be a non believer again. Its a one way valve, either you are or you are not. We cannot fall away. We cannot be unborn (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Also, people can bring (read lead) people to Christ, but they cannot convince people. My argument is not intended to be convincing, I am merely commanded to speak the truth, ‘convincing’ is out of my hands.

:: hand stretched out ::

Hello Dan,

Thanks for proving me at least partially wrong, and actually responding directly to me.

How do you know this? How are you certain, so much you are willing to wager? Even though I am not a gambling man, I will take that bet, because I cannot lose that one. I will bet the farm. Sure things are not gambling, at least that is my justification.

Since I’m at work and don’t have time to research, I’m going to stick with anecdotes for now, and I’ll look around for actual data this weekend. (Like you, I have a family and two jobs to do, plus I have to prepare for spring and hockey playoffs.)

Personal anecdote: in the area that I live we have a handful of regular street preachers (five or six) and a few churches that have their youth do outdoor performances. One time while on lunch break, I walked past one preacher putting on his show for the summer tourist crowd. As is usual with my experience (from both sides – I’ve done street performances), most of the crowd in the area that hadn’t decided to leave when he set up shop was reacting along the lines of amused annoyance. The most common refrains from people in the area tend to be along the lines of, “What an loser”, “I wish he’d shut up”, and “I can’t believe he’s embarrassing himself like this.”

Mr. Preacher apparently decided I looked like a good subject and interruped me walking by, to single me out for some personal attention. I took the opportunity to turn it into a short, public discussion about the ridiculousness of Christianity. This was a number of years ago, so I can’t recall the exact exchange that occured, but I remember When I walked away, some people in the crowd cheered for me for confronting the street preacher. That struck me as interesting, because when I did street theatre, generally the only applause we received came from members of our church that were around to give support.

Thus, according to my anecdotal data, people are more supportive to people who’ll stand up to the bullying attitude of preachy Christians than accept a preacher’s arguments.

Now, let’s extrapolate a little bit (okay, a lot). How many Christian street preachers are there? I don’t have exact numbers, but I’d wager at least hundreds if not thousands of them country-wide. Conversely, how many atheist street “preachers” are there? I’ve heard of occasional atheist street performances, so they’re certainly not common. I’ve definitely never seen anybody walking around with a “God is fake” sandwich board, or seen people recreating Dawkins’ Ancestor’s Tale in the park. For fun, let’s say a couple dozen across the entire country.

Now add access to the media on top of that. Again, for every Richard Dawkins or Mikey Weinstein, there are dozens if not hundreds (or thousands) of Christians going on news shows, taking television interviews, etc. How many atheist shows are there on radio or TV? In my Bell TV subscription, I can’t find a single one. However, there are at least three full Christian TV channels, hundreds of Christian radio stations and even large number of “secular” radio and television channels also carry some Christian programming like 100 Huntley Street, Glenn Beck, and the like.

If we assume, for simplicity’s sake, that the amount of people the atheist and Christian preachers piss off versus the number of people they convince is equal (which I think is reasonable), then, just by the sheer number differential alone, Christians drive hundreds if not thousands of times more people away from the gospel than atheists push towards it.

Granted, this was just a thought experiment, but yeah, I’ll take that bet that more Christians drive people away from Christianity than atheists drive towards it.

Now, what was supposed to be a quick post took up my entire lunch hour, so I’ll have to continue this later this weekend, and I’ll bring some actual data instead of anecdotes.

Sinned34,

>>This was a number of years ago, so I can’t recall the exact exchange that occured, but I remember When I walked away, some people in the crowd cheered for me for confronting the street preacher.

That is simply because atheists were in that crowd more then Christians. You can’t be saying, or believe, that you’re able to pull souls AWAY from God’s grasp, are you? Do you really feel you posses the “power” to remove people from eternity in Heaven? Really? *snicker

Its understandable though, since that is how and why the secular crowd targets public schools (read what John Dunphy said) and unsuspecting children for indoctrination.

>>I’ve definitely never seen anybody walking around with a “God is fake” sandwich board, or seen people recreating Dawkins’ Ancestor’s Tale in the park.

How about billboards, signs on buses, and countless litigation in Courts?

>> How many atheist shows are there on radio or TV?

A better question would be how much media coverage do the atheists, like Dawkins, get over various Christians? The scale certainly tilts to the Atheists.

>> also carry some Christian programming like 100 Huntley Street, Glenn Beck, and the like.

Correction Beck is NOT a Christian. He is a Mormon. Howard Huge difference. He is certainly not a voice for Christians by any stretch of one’s imagination.

Keep thinking, but not too much. According to the data doing so just may be detrimental to your health and well being.

George,

>>That said, he has provided 20+links on this site, so I think my greater point stands; but he is not solely using his own site links, just roughly 90% of the time.

Don’t be such a cry baby dude. I pointed to an older post in case the arguments wants to be fleshed out more as in the case to sinned34 when I said “You see, as I pointed out in an older post, ” 1 John 2:19 …”

It was a quote from the Bible that I was pointing to. I thought it was resourceful to point to something that EXTENDED the thought that I had here instead of vomiting the same thing in polluting your blog with my pseudo sermons. I was being considerate to you, dummy. Besides, the comments WITHOUT clicking the links, for the most part stand on their own.

I use my blog as a resource of my own research, since Atheists obviously say the same things in their dogma. I point to my own blog for the information that is in it from other sources, not to just say “look at what I said”. Its merely a convenience thingy. I am, after all, trying to run a home, blog, and homeschooling 5 of my 6 kids. Forgive me for giving you the little time I have to help you in you finding the truth. Dork. :7)

Dan,
Seriously? Did you just call me a Dork? Seriously?
I’m trying to be helpful Dan. I’m trying to show you that saying “See, my opinion is verified by….my opinion” is not going to win you any points with skeptics. You are not “right because you are right”, the world doesn’t work that way. It takes more than a really warped opinion grounded in a book that others don’t find compelling to sway opinions. I’m trying to help you with that Great Commission thingy your all about. You think I might get a few props for being helpful? Jesus Fucking Christ already!:7)
I’m not being a cry baby either. This is my blog, and I could ban you, or delete your comments, or remove your links….and I do none of these things. Even those things wouldn’t be being a cry baby. I just want to help you to effectively get your message across, because as it stands, every person here thinks you are a Nutjob God-Bot. I won’t speak for John, but I bet even HE- in all his Godly demeanor- thinks that you are doing more damage than good.
I’m about the most gracious blogger you will ever meet on the internet, so you will be happy to know that you haven’t even gotten to the beginning of “the end of my chain”. I just think you might want to rethink how you approach your arguments, that’s all.
It’s kind of ironic that you keep atheists around your blog to let them spew poison and I keep you here to let you do the same.

I think what Dan is attempting to do by linking to himself is direct you to a larger-than-comment-sized articulation of his view on the particular issue, in which he cites outside sources.

I haven’t looked at his site to see if that is true, but I suspect that is the case.

But “Dork” did elicit a face palm from me. LMAO!

Yes John,
I think he is trying to avoid making a Lamont sized comment on my blog. Yet he seems to use them more like references then like “I actually expand on this idea here”. That is my problem. He is presenting his opinion like it is evidence.
When you do it, a) it’s usually on your own site, not one you visit b)you say something like “I deal with this issue here”
And please, go look at the nasty, self satisfied shrine to Dan that is Debunking Atheists. I would love to get your honest opinion of a site that claims to be on the same side as you that I think has “issues”.

George,

>>Seriously? Did you just call me a Dork? Seriously?

NO! Not seriously! That is the point. Stop being a dork here. Lighten up. Your dorkish behavior is yet again quite evident when you say “Seriously? Did you just call me a Dork? Seriously?” *pshaw

Have a great weekend.

One more thing George,

Sonned34 said, and I quote, “I made this entry at my blog, so here’s the full text of it. I’ll also post it at John Junior’s comments section.”

Now, I looked for a tongue lashing from you and cannot find any. So ONCE AGAIN your ‘ironic bias’ is showing strong in the force. Thanks for revealing your contempt for not only God, but to Christians also.

You just made my weekend. Slam Debunked.

Dan,
You are being completely ridiculous. I have never told anyone they shouldn’t or can’t post links on my site. I told you that you post too many links to your own site and tend to use them as evidence to back up you own position.
Has Sinned ever done this? No. I have known him for over a year, he has commented 41 times, he is one of the first commenters I ever had on this blog, and in that time he has posted exactly five links on my site (which is incidentally the number of links in one of your posts-twice!). I have known you for about three months, you have commented on my blog on only 4 posts and you have offered 25 comments with 30 links. That is more than one link per comment. Compared to an average of .12 links from Sinned, ALMOST ONE TENTH THE AMOUNT YOU USE. In fact, you are responsible for 30 of 63 total links in my comment section, that is ALMOST HALF.
So maybe you’d like to stop being a DORK….DORK!

Now, I looked for a tongue lashing from you and cannot find any. So ONCE AGAIN your ‘ironic bias’ is showing strong in the force. Thanks for revealing your contempt for not only God, but to Christians also.

Hmm, one of these things is not like the other. Notice how I’m continuing the conversation here and not just posting a link to my site as an answer to a query?

Hey George, how many links have I left on your blog back to mine since I fired up my site last July: six or seven? less than a dozen?

Either way, I don’t recall George promising to be completely unbiased (what human other than a Professional Journalist could possibly hope to achieve that?), he just asked with a touch of snark that you not use discussions here as a link farm.

If you want to try and convince him that you’re not just linking to drive up your page ranking, go ahead, but how about we drop the bawwws about “liberal bias” and get back to the subject matter?

As a fomer Christian, now atheist, it’s my position that you, Dan, are the opposite side of the coin of those atheists that insist Christians know that their God doesn’t really exist, but are just lying to themselves because they are afraid of being without their invisible friend. How do you react to those atheists? I’ll wager you don’t find their insistance very compelling, so why would you expect us to react differently to you saying we actually believe in God, but just refuse to admit it because of sin, pride, and/or hatred of our creator? Don’t worry, it was a rhetorical question – I already know the answer.

I’ll be slightly less accommodating than George here: if you want to have a conversation about what we all believe, including how our backgrounds and histories inform our belief systems, then please come back. We can have a nice discussion and maybe walk away from it having learned something new about each other.

However, if you want to come in here and accuse us atheists of lying about our beliefs (which is exactly what you just did), without knowing anything about us, our stories, and why we don’t believe in god, you can fuck off right now. Go back to your Christian buddies and tell them how you witnessed the truth of Christ to some atheists, and how it was obvious how the conviction of the Holy Spirit was working on the heart of at least one of them, because he reacted by telling you to leave in some not-so-nice terms.

The Way Of The Master approach to conversion you employ here is one of the biggest reasons why so few young evangelical Christians remain with the faith after they leave to college or head out on their own. When you rely on emotion to bring people to your religion, once the feelings are gone and reality comes crashing in, it becomes very apparent how irrelevant the Christian God and the Bible are to the vast majority of everyday life.

I made this entry at my blog, so here’s the full text of it. I’ll also post it at John Junior’s comments section.

George posted a link to a theist website that asks three questions of atheists. I assembled this post in my head before I read George’s (and anybody else’s) reply, so that it wouldn’t colour my own response too much.

Question one: What would it take, or what would have to happen for you to abandon your position of atheism and come to a theistic view; not just an agnostic possibility of God, but an actual belief that a Deity does exist?

Good, reproducible evidence is pretty much the only thing I can request here.

I can’t really consider unexplained phenomena as evidence for God, because history has shown us that events humans used to consider as only explainable by premising deities turned out to actually require no divine interference. Unfortunately, the more we seem to examine the universe in detail, it seems that any version of a god, other than the nebulous “prime mover” that originally sparked the creation of the universe, seems completely unnecessary and more and more unlikely.

For the same reasons, I consider miracles to be poor manifestation of a God’s existence. Ignorance of the cause of a certain unlikely occasion is not evidence for anything other than… ignorance.

I’d like to say that personal revelation would be nice – maybe the clouds parting, and a booming voice announcing to me that it was the creator of the universe. But I’m too aware of the weaknesses of the human mind, and that such a thing would most likely be a result of a psychotic episode. Otherwise, how could I be sure that my experience was more realistic than that of Mohammed, Joseph Smith, or any run-of-the-mill schizophrenic?

Question two: What would it take for you to believe Christianity is true?

Which version of Christianity? There are over five thousand different sects of Christianity, which makes this question a little too simplistic to answer accurately.

For instance, whatever evidence that might convince me that Jesus was an actual historical figure that was able to come back from the dead after a couple of days of actual death and and decomposition would have to be coupled with a enough evidence to overthrow pretty much all of modern science to show that the universe is less than 10,000 years old and that the myth of Noah’s ark actually happened for me to believe in any of the myriad of young earth, biblical literalist Christianities.

Question three: Why would your answers to the above be sufficient to convince you theism is true, and that Christianity was true?

Like gravity, wavelengths of radiation outside of our ability to detect them with our natural senses, and dark matter, it all comes down to the evidence.

As an atheist, I have a natural inclination to require more evidence for religious claims (not just Christian claims, mind you, but from all religions) than might be fair. Because of this, I figure the most reasonable I can be would be to require the same kind of evidence that I’d request before I believe that intelligent aliens are visiting Earth in technologically advanced spaceships.

If a UFO landed on our planet and the inhabitants of the vessel made contact with a large swath of humans, including media and scientists, and gave us a reproducible explanation of their origins, how they arrived on Earth, etc., I would have a difficult time denying the existence of intelligent aliens.

If God wants to visit us, making himself available to the media and scientists, giving us a scientifically valid and confirmable explanation for how the universe works, the origins of life, and human history, then it would also be difficult to deny his existence.

I appreciate what seems to be a non-judgmental request for information from atheists about their beliefs, but these three questions seem to me to be missing one very valuable point: the Christian God is all-powerful and all-knowing. Even if I don’t know what would convince me that He exists, Yahweh does, and he supposedly has the power to make me aware of his existence. That He has refused to do so, even though I actively sought Him out for a number of years in my life, is among the best evidence that God doesn’t exist. At the very least, He doesn’t seem interested in spending eternity with me, and, in return, I couldn’t care less about Him.

Thanks for the reply, George.

It is often difficult to have these discussions between camps and yet, like an Alzheimer’s patient I keep wandering in search of something elusive. I ask a lot of questions. My tone can be somewhat sarcastic and dry at times, but my goal of trying to understand the motives and motivation of faith. As you have found for yourself, the fact that these questions are even asked of religion is scoffed by its adherents.

I find it tedious but necessary to define everything with anyone you debate before even getting started and I, too, appreciate those who engage in a conversation that don’t simply argue using scripture after scripture. The point of this discussion is to (hopefully) show the flowchart of logic used to reach your conclusion. I agree with Sinned34 and his line of reasoning. It is well though-out and very reasonable.

I would require empirical evidence without the ambiguity. The methodology we use to understand the universe in which we live in should also apply to any entity people claim to exist in it.

zqtx,
Thank you for not taking my criticism of your comment personally.
You are welcome here, and if you think you have tone issues, please take the time to acquaint yourself with Sinned34- I think that his tone should make you fell better about your own shortcomings. I’m not a tone troll, and you won’t get much criticism of that here. Sinned is a close friend, and his tone is appropriate because a) it’s directed at the right people AND b) It is backed by relevant arguments and facts. Those are my only rules on tone, language, and decorum. You earn what you get here. If you are an ass, you get treated like one. If you are rational, I won’t let people treat you inappropriately. If you can’t abide by those rules, then I need to take action. Fair?
I need people like Sinned (and maybe you) here, because I see myself in the moderators position and I need to always be trying to foster discussion that is substantive. I need to be more conciliatory here than I can be elsewhere, because this is the style I want for this blog. I enjoy having people who can call “bullshit” when I feel like I need to say “Explain that please..”

As to your comment about empirical evidence, I have made my feelings about that clear over at John’s blog in response to Oscars comments. I disagree, sort of, with the level of evidence every one of you is asking for.

I think we’ll get along fine and dandy, George. Our outlook on religion seems to be along the same lines, but you appear to communicate your message more succinctly.

I find it difficult to answer these questions using any specific example of what would satisfy me personally. I’m afraid that, regardless of what example I provide, the essence of the reasoning behind it would be lost. I don’t wish to get bogged down in the trivial details, but rather keep the focus on the big picture.

I think the main conflict between believers and non-believers is what they are willing to accept as proof or evidence. Define it however you wish, but if it essentially comes down to “because I said so” or some variation thereof, that just doesn’t cut it. If you ask “why?” often enough to a person of faith, they sooner or later have to admit that they just believe it because someone or something says so. (I suppose their bullshit meter is just set lower than mine and I’m not afraid to call them on it)

Now this it the epitome of speaking before thinking, and I assure you I don’t mean that with any ill will. Perhaps you have overlooked the fact that nearly everything you know is due to someone telling you so. Very little of anyones knowledge is based on direct experience.

There’s a delicate balance to be had between fostering discussion and allowing ignorpidity (that bastard love-child of ignorance and stupidity) to run rampant. For the blog administrator, this balance is even more critical, since admins generally want to foment conversations and create a nice intellectual atmosphere.

Somebody like John Jr. seems to at least want to have a discussion, which I’m totally willing to participate in, and I’ll even temper my sarcasm and mocking for people like him. At least a little.

Dan just wants to pull a Ray Comfort, thinking that he can just post the magical words that Jesus loves us despite us being filthy sinners, and hoping that the conviction of the Holy Spirit will make us aware of our need for salvation. We’re not actual human beings to people of Dan’s ilk, we’re merely automatons to be witnessed to for them to make up their quota of souls saved and build up treasure in heaven. They don’t care that their approach fails pretty much 100% of the time because merely uttering a scripture or two at an atheist counts as them fulfilling the Great Commission in their twisted little minds.

I generally try to give everyone a chance to offer their viewpoints, and treat them fairly. However, I won’t hesitate to call out what I see as hypocrisy or stupidity, and when I see assholishness, I can return in kind and escalate very well. It took me a little while to realize that this is why I have the last post in a number of threads.

No ill-will taken, John

The difference is the fact that science relies on verifiable evidence from credible sources. It would be foolish to fill your head believing everything you are ever told without question. Even your own experience must hold up to the scrutiny of investigation.

Zqtx, I think a word that might help here is “reproducible”. One important factor in science is for other people to be able to reproduce and confirm each others’ results.

I, for one, attempted the experiment of believing in God, praying every day, etc, for a number of years and was unable to reproduce the results that the evangelical Christians around me claimed to be finding. I did some other research and found their source documents to be flawed and relatively unrelated to many scientific disciplines, so I determined that the avenue of research was fruitless and dropped it. However, I do like to come back to see if YEC’s have come up with any different results recently.

Disclaimer: I’m not a scientist, and I’m not even particularly good at faking being one, of which I’m sure the above comment should provide sufficient evidence.

I agree with you, Sinned34 – reproducibility is a key element of the scientific method of understanding. That’s why I added the bit about your own experiences. Like I said before, a major difference is what you allow to be admitted as reliable.

While this may pose to be an interesting set of questions for atheists, religious people will either not be satisfied with the answer or they just won’t understand the reasoning behind it. To ask for specific criteria to meet the stated standards discussed seems rather pointless, considering the stretch of numerous hypothetical situations and the tangents they create.

I propose this simple question instead: Why do you believe what you believe?

Throughout our lives we are exposed to millions of pieces of information. For you, what determines the validity of that information in order to accept it as true as opposed to tossing it?

The questions are only pointless if the atheist holds their view in a closed-minded way. In otherwords if the atheist has decided that it is impossible to have their mind changed no matter what is presented to them for consideration, then it is a rather candid admission that they are not interested in adapting their opinions to where ever the best explanation leads.

My questions were not asking for criteria, my questions asked for specific examples of events or states of affairs which would cause the individual to change their worldview. Unfortunately many responses I got offered criteria, which really doesn’t answer the questions at all.

With all due respect, you fail to see that all the “evidence” yet presented doesn’t even qualify as evidence and accusing the atheist of being closed-minded is the very name-calling you abhor. You ask for an event or state when the requirement calls for reproducibility. This reproducibility calls for criteria, which you saw in the answers.

If you care to indulge me, could you answer the questions I posed?

With all due respect, I didn’t call anyone any names. The definition of closed minded is holding a view while refusing to consider evidence to the contrary. If the atheist believes my questions asking what evidence they’d need to change is pointless, it is an admission there is no evidence which could change their mind. That is what closed minded is. Eithe that or its an admission that atheism is unfalsifiable.

I see where you’re going with this. The problem boils down to what someone sees as “evidence”. What one camp sees as solid proof for one argument is disputed and often dismissed by the other. Just because atheists dispute the validity of evidence presented, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re closed-minded. That’s why I think the more pertinent question is to ask “why do you believe what you believe?” rather than “what would it take for you to believe?”

This is why I tried to lay out my 4C’s. My feeling is that it is better to investigate what constitutes evidence then to give a very specific example of what will make you believe. Is the whole epistemology Contradictory? Is there Context to the evidence? Does the evidence allow you to make Convenient conclusions? Is the evidence Credible, based on facts instead of “we just can’t answer it, therefore any unreasonable answer could do”?
I believe many things that I don’t have direct (empirical) evidence for. But I also realize the importance of considering evidence on its merits before just concluding something based on ANY evidence. I want to be reasonable when I make a conclusion, and thus I must hold all evidence to a universal standard.

“You asked me for my opinion and I’m giving it. God is unreasonable, and any specific event I give you that would make me change my mind would by nature be unreasonable. If I could come up with a reasonable proof than I would be saying God is reasonable.”

Well said George! That’s exactly what I was trying to say.

Hi George – I’ve been reading up on John’s latest blog and figured I’d throw in my two cents from here since John has yet to approve anything I’ve said in the past few hours.

He has the emotional appeals that Christians routinely use in their arguments confused with the analysis of the same statements by atheists. I find irony in what he writes when he refers to defending a position when I have yet to hear him explain ANY of his beliefs. I don’t mind the fact that he bloviates on and on with his opinion on various matters, but as soon as you ask him to actually state and defend his beliefs he cries about going off-topic!

I would love to actually have a civil discussion with this guy, but he can’t seem to overcome his narrow definition of atheism (asserting a belief of no god) and his requirement of a counter-assertion in order to discuss anything. Do you happen to know of any other blogs or Christians to get a “spirited debate”?

Z,
I can call you Z, right?
I frequent quite a few Christian blogs and have found John to be among the most reasonable. Of course, as we say in Canada, that is like being voted the hottest chick in Inuktatut.
I would echo many of the same sentiments you gave here, but if you learn to spar by his rules you can get a good debate from John on occasion. He argues like a presuppositionalist, and he likely learned his style from Bahnson and Van Til. You need to get that before you go too far with him, and I tripped a few times in my early comments too.
If you like exercises in futility, you could try going to Dan’s Debunking Atheists site. I will avoid the irony and not link to it, you can find him in this thread, along with 15 or so links to his posts, he’s good for that.
I’ll make you a deal, I’ll start a new post that allows you and others to comment on posts that will not accept your comments. You can link to it and then comment, and I think this will give us all an opportunity to share some links and discuss amongst ourselves. Plus it might help me when I’m fishing for subjects to write about!
How about it? The page is at the top of my blog under the title: Silence IS NOT Golden.

It would take a personal revelation for me. Not just a dream or something vague like that either. God would need to come down and talk to me personally. When that happens I’ll sign up.

Christopher,
First let me say that your blog is named after my favorite book of all time, so I like you already. Also, you use the opening line on your blog, which I think is the best opening paragraph in literature. When I was twelve, I pillaged my Dad’s old books and found NoFU/The Double and The Trial (Kafka) which to this day are two of my favorite books. You are now officially my homeboy.

I am planning a post to discuss a few of the comments I have gotten on this post, as well as some of the comments over at TiR&P on John’s post. I am interested to talk about why we feel we need a ‘personal revelation’ to accept religion. Stay tuned!


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