Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What would make me believe (in Jesus)?

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.


  1. Thanks for taking some time to think about an answer, can you think of an example which would fulfill your criteria for "empirical evidence"?

    "That He has refused to do so, even though I actively sought Him out for a number of years in my life"

    May I ask what you were expecting?

  2. May I ask what you were expecting?

    Of course! I'm glad you asked. I'll try to keep this brief though, because this will be included in part two of a big post about my conversion from agnostic to evangelical Christian to atheist (which I hope to have out tonight or tomorrow), and also because Blogger's commenting system has eaten two of my replies already - and it's my friggin' blog!

    Basically, I was expecting to have the same experiences I was witnessing the other evangelical Christians in my church (and sister churches, retreats, youth group, etc) having. Everybody around me seemed to be feeling the Holy Spirit during worship; they received revelations about life when they read the Bible; they heard the quiet voice of God when praying.

    I tried my best to recreate what the members of my church were doing. I prayed. I studied the Bible. I received the spirit and spoke in tongues. I got baptized. I was slain in the spirit. I received and gave intercessory prayer. I joined the worship team. I assisted as best I could during deliverance sessions.
    Through all that, however, I never felt anything.

    In a half decade I could count two incidences where I thought I experienced the Holy Spirit. In the time since I've left Christianity behind, I've felt that exact same experience a few times, in which there was little chance that the Christian God was the cause. One incident occurred while headbanging at a Tool concert, another was while driving along with my wife one night, singing out loud to A Perfect Circle. (Waitaminute - could that means Maynard James Keenan is God?)

    Essentially, I went on a search for God, and couldn't find Him.

    I've since moved on in my life, and I discovered that the Christian God, even if He were to exist, is simply irrelevant to my life.

  3. Didn't it strike you as odd that you were searching for a feeling that the Bible never tells you to expect? In fact never does it tell you to get in touch with your feelings, to evaluate anything by your feelings, etc.

    It's funny, I used to attend an Assemblies of God church where people were "feeling the Spirit" and never once did I ever get anything close to those experiences. People "speaking" in toungues (a true manifestation of which I believe is very rare, to the point where I believe the experiences are self induced and not true representations)and I never once got any of it. People get caught up in the moment, like at faith healer events.

    I don't really "feel" spiritual in any way whatsoever, actually, never have. But never once did it ever occur to me to judge the truth of something by the way I react or don't react to it.

    If the heart is desperately wicked (Jer 17:9) why did your lack of feeling determine Christianity was false? Why did you place such a high value on your feelings?

  4. I haven't been avoiding your comment, or any of the other discussions that have been going on. Real life has been intruding, and with luck, I'll get back to you after work and hockey are done with.

  5. Seriously? The Bible never talks about hearing the voice or feeling the direction of god, or the joy that can come upon his followers? I can't take the time to look up specific scriptures right now, but I recall lots of places where the Bible talks about faith in god invoking great emotions amongst his worshippers. At the very least, it's a common and important facet of the evangelical/baptist/pentacostal worship and doctrine.

    I'd have to agree with you though: unlike Star Wars, I can't recall the Bible asking people to evaluate it's truth content through feelings. It also eschews knowledge in favour of an unshakeable faith, which, though it might be the nerd in me, I think is an unforgivable requirement for any belief system.

    I also agree that incidents of speaking in tongues that are witnessed in most evangelical or pentacostal churches are self-induced. I'd argue that there are no (nor have there ever been) manifestations of the speaking in tongues that the New Testament gives an example of.

    I also completely agree that the emotions present at pentacostal events are similar to faith healing, the ecstacy achieved by voodoo practitioners, or even the joy that concertgoers enjoy when they see their favorite band play live. No gods, angels, or demons are required to explain any of this, it is merely the human mind at work.

    One thing I should have made much more clear is that the lack of an emotional connection to god or my faith was actually only one element of my eventual deconversion. Because I was not receiving experiences similar to those my fellow Christians seemed to be having, it slowly led me to be able to look at my Christian beliefs and review the Bible critically. Lack of the emotional aspect was one of the catalysts that eventually led me to discarding the hypothesis of the Jesus incarnation of Yahweh.

  6. I would just like to know sinned34 - what makes you so damn special that God himself needs to prove he exists to you? The Creator of All, Loving Father, must debase himself and write out in the stars "DR, I exist!"?? What makes you so freakin' special dearest? Did it ever occur to you, that you have to actively seek him out, pray every day, and most of all get out of your own head, be HUMBLE and open your stubborn heart.

  7. What about Godel's ontological proof?