This blog post is going to be a little different than most of mine. This post in particular is aimed more at theists than the majority of my posts are. Theists often wonder how to convince atheists of their position, and seem to think it is impossible to convince us of God. This clearly is not the case; from our perspective, theists often fail miserably at presenting their case, and even act in ways that detract from their arguments. It is not that we are not able to be convinced; it is that we are looking for certain kinds of evidence, and theists often fail to present it. This article is about what would convince me, personally, to believe in God.
If theists want to convince me to believe in God, the most important key is to cater to their audience, which in this case, is me. This means they need to understand how I think. The primary reason I do not believe in God is because I have not found any of the evidence convincing. As you have seen in my article on presuppositionalism, I adopt an epistemology based on accepting the existence universe and myself as axioms, and this means that we must derive the existence of God from myself or the physical universe. I do not require absolute evidence because I do not accept that one can be absolutely certain about much of anything, but the evidence for the existence of God should be very firm and undeniable on a reasonable level. I adopt the agnostic atheist position; I do not believe in God, but I do not necessarily deny the possibility of his existence either. I believe the burden of proof is on the person who is making the claim, and that would be the theist. From here on, I am going to provide a list of dos and don’ts for arguing with me on the subject for the existence of God.
Do cater your argument to the preferences above. It is essential for any would be evangelist that they meet me where I am. Do not engage in a debate with me if you are so deep in your perspective that you cannot even comprehend my viewpoint. A major problem Christians have in their outreach in my opinion is they are so indoctrinated in their belief system that they cannot even relate to people who are outside of it. Do intend to have a two way conversation. A conversation that is not two way is a lecture. I have no intention of being lectured. Do not engage in a conversation with me if you are unwilling to change your mind. If I am going to be willing to change my mind, I expect the same from people I discuss things with. I refuse to discuss religion with people who have no interest in hearing what I have to say, but want to try to convince me.
Do not come into an argument already assuming the existence of God. I am not interested in apologetics (as in, merely a defense of a preconceived belief). I am interested in true knowledge. Do not think that I am a secret theist who obviously knows that God exists. That might be what it says in the Bible (Romans 1:20), but I do not believe in the Bible. That being said, quoting the Bible will not get you anywhere either, unless you can convince me that the Bible is true.
Do not try to tell me that the Bible is true because it says so in the Bible. This is circular reasoning. Do not attempt to use the Bible’s alleged internal consistency to credit some sort of merit to it that I do not believe it has. I have studied the Bible, and I was a sincere Christian for over a decade. I recognize that the alleged consistency in the Bible is actually circular reasoning and based on the presupposition that it is true. I even wrote an article explaining some of the psychology behind theistic beliefs in the Bible. If one is seriously going to insist on using the Bible as evidence, it must be supported by external evidence that builds knowledge up, rather than evidence that reaffirms itself.
Do not rely on personal feelings. They are unreliable and are not good indicators to truth. It may be nice you claim to have had experiences that you think were caused by the Holy Spirit, or God, or whatever. I thought I did too as a Christian. Often, these feelings are mistaken for something else.
Do not rely on alleged miracles. Many relatively mundane “miracles” such as the right thing happening at the right time does not mean a supernatural being did it. Do gain an understanding and appreciation of statistics in the context of miracles, and recognize the power of things like confirmation bias. Do understand that correlation is not causation. In the case of true supernatural miracles, do make sure that they can be verified via scientific means. Do try to rule out natural phenomena if you want to prove that the cause was supernatural.
Do not appeal to faith. Faith is belief without evidence. I want evidence. Do not tell me I need to have faith first in order to see evidence. Much evidence gathered in this way is invalidated because the process involved literally suspends critical thinking, intentionally leaving one open to phenomena like confirmation bias. Moreover, expecting me to spend my life believing without evidence, with the promise of future evidence is insufficient, and sounds like a huge scam. Imagine if a Nigerian prince told you if you give them $100 out of your paycheck every week, sometimes for years, that you will eventually become a millionaire. Asking people to accept what you say on faith for the promise of future evidence is a lot like that.
On the flip side, do not threaten me with hell or some sort of punishment. I do not believe in your hell or your divine punishment. Do not ask me what if I am wrong. Trying to scare me with the unlikely chance that you are right does not give me a valid reason to believe, especially when the possibilities out there are endless. Pascal’s wager is not a binary choice. By accepting one religion, I could easily be denying the “real” religion, if it exists.
Do not appeal to personal experience that cannot be verified. I cannot confirm your experiences, and if they are convincing to you, they are not necessarily convincing to me.
Do not rely on arguments of ignorance. I already know that certain definitions of God are possible. It is your burden of proof to present them to me. Trying to defend how your idea is possible will not get you anywhere. Once again, I am not interested in apologetics.
Do present logical arguments. Logical arguments can be valid evidence for the existence of God. I will introduce one caveat though: do not expect logical arguments to be valid enough in and of themselves. Philosophy is a particularly slippery discipline in the sense that depending on one’s assumptions, people can come to radically different conclusions. Just as you can argue for God with philosophy, it is equally possible to argue against the existence of God. Do check your arguments for logical fallacies. Many logical fallacies are often present in theistic arguments; it is good to check for them. My articles on theistic arguments can be of help, as can RationalWiki and Iron Chariots.
Do present scientific evidence. Scientific evidence for God can be some of the strongest, most convincing ways of convincing atheists. This is because scientific evidence, when properly done, is a high standard for confirming anything to be true. It can be as airtight as you can get if you present a phenomena that can be linked directly to God, that is observable and repeatable. This is difficult to accomplish, but if it can be done, that would be one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time. It is essential that this evidence links the independent variable, ie. God, directly to the phenomenon you are claiming is true.
Do verify any scientific evidence you present. There is a lot of junk science out there. Studies can have bad research designs, they can be written by quacks with an agenda, and they can be the one of many studies that is false despite passing tests of statistical significance; especially if the conclusion presented is not consistently reproduced. Peer reviewed studies from a trusted journal or institution is best. Other stuff can be valid if the result is reproduced among many studies.
Do not rely on pseudoscience from blatantly religious sources. Once again, I am not interested in apologetics, which has underlying assumptions and is there for the sole purpose of defending and propping up preconceptions. Do not claim that my evidence is as equally biased as yours. While there is no such thing as being completely unbiased, good scientific studies at least attempt to reduce or eliminate bias as much as possible. They are also interested in building up objective knowledge, no matter what it is, rather than defending a certain position. Do not claim I am biased because I presuppose God does not exist. Not believing in something is the default position, or the null hypothesis. In order to know something exists, we have to show that the idea that it does not exist is very unlikely.
Do present an entire worldview based on philosophical and empirical evidence. I became an atheist because the weight of the evidence of these deductions became so great that I could not deny the conclusion. If you want to convince me that God exists, let alone that your religion is true you need to present an entire worldview backed up by lots of evidence that is so overwhelming that it cannot be denied. This is what caused me to make the shift from Christianity to atheism; one piece of evidence did not convince me. It took an entire worldview with lots of arguments and evidence in order to do so.
Do present God him/herself. Allow me to have a conversation with this deity, ideally, multiple conversations. Allow him or her to present their powers to me. I am like Thomas the Doubter, I want to put my fingers in his wounds (figuratively) and see for myself (John 20:25). Ideally, I would like to be verified by a psychologist that I am not crazy, and I would like others, especially trained individuals to be able to observe and record the same as me. This is because God is truly extraordinary and it requires firm evidence to believe that he really is all he is cracked up to be. I need to be sure I am not being taken advantage of, or that I am not insane.
I know this seems like a tall order. I know you may think that this is impossible. However, this is what is required to convince me God exists. You cannot appeal to faith, or the Bible, or any preconceptions in your worldview that I do not hold. You have to present reliable scientific and philosophical evidence, if not God himself. You have to wrap all of these things up in a convincing and well supported narrative. This is what it took for me to lose my faith to begin with, and this is what it will take for me to regain it.