How do you convert an atheist? Most atheists rely on evidence, reason, and the scientific method to form our worldview. To convert one of us, theists need to be able to demonstrate that the evidence points in the direction of their god. Unfortunately for them, it does not.
As one of millions of atheists, I’m not alone when I say that I’ve heard the same poor arguments for god used over and over again. In fact, I haven’t heard a new one in a really long time. They don’t work. Here are a few things that would and wouldn’t change my mind about god.
Now before I open this can of worms, I have two disclaimers:
First: Deists believe that a God created everything – winding the world up like a clock and then just left it to run. This type of God could have predestined everything simply by orchestrating the size, direction, and speed of the big bang – with our current choices being just the predestined sum of past experiences. But this type of God is impossible to prove due to the striking similarity between absences and non-existence. Think about it. You can say that God’s not non-existent and is just invisible, unsmellable, doesn’t interact with us in anyway, and is completely undetectable, but honestly, what’s the difference? Besides, most people who believe in god believe in a god who hears and answers prayers and interacts with the world around them. So I’ll stick with how you can convince an atheist that an interactive god exists.
Second: There’s a massive leap between proving the existence of any interactive deity and proving the existence of YOUR interactive deity. For the purpose of this short video, I’ll only attempt to deal with the former.
Many theists claim that they have experienced a supernatural event that proves their god or know someone who has. But what piece of supernatural evidence would it take to convince an atheist that such an interactive god exists?
“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” - Christopher Hitchens
I’ve been a member of the atheist community for some time now, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet with former theists from all over the world and ask them why they left their faith. Now I’m sure their are a few outliers, but without exception, every single person of the hundreds I’ve talked to did so because they began asking questions and following the evidence. They didn’t become atheists because they were mad at God over some traumatic event, and they didn’t leave their faith because they wanted to live a life of sin. They left because they were intellectually honest enough to follow wherever the truth led. So if most atheists favor reason, logic, and science and are open to changing their minds and admitting their wrong (most of them have done it at least once before), then it’s safe to assume that evidence and reason could bring them back to their faith, if that’s where the evidence pointed.
And here’s where we hit a philosophical dilemma. How can we detect the supernatural world? If you can detect it naturally, it wouldn’t be supernatural, right? After all, if god uses the physical world by triggering a release of the naturally-occurring hallucinogenic Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) in a person’s brain, and she speaks to them in that hallucination, the supernatural experience is entirely indistinguishable from a natural one. If God is confined by the laws of nature, then is he God? And if he’s not, and he alters them on occasion, then scientists would have to re-write their equations to figure out why their not constant and come up with a natural explanation. There has to be a way to test and prove a supernatural god’s existence that’s outside of naturally occurring events by just measuring the effects of the supernatural on the natural world, without having to measure the supernatural itself.
We know we can’t rely on anecdotal evidence (eyewitness testimony), because revelation is only revelation to the first person, and is hearsay to everyone thereafter, because stories change and are exaggerated, and memories are altered every time they’re re-called. We can’t use the stunts of repeatedly debunked faith healers who rely on earpieces, the placebo effect, the natural anesthetic effects of adrenaline, and easily replicable sleight of hand to fool their sheep. Improbable events aren’t proof of god, because they aren’t supernatural. They just happen less often because they’re improbable, not impossible. We can’t use dreams, hallucinations, or visions, because that all occurs in your head naturally and is scientifically explainable.
So what does it take? I can’t speak for every atheist, but there’s one way to indirectly test the existence of supernatural forces in the natural world that would change my mind: prayer studies – a double-blind, replicable, test on the efficacy of prayer. If a supernatural deity existed who answers prayers there would be a strong correlation between people being prayed for and otherwise unexplainable healings, and the results would be well outside the margin of error. It would only work when the right gods were prayed to. You could expect amputees to regularly regrow limbs, the blind to see, and people to come back from the dead.
Instead, in a study of over 1,800 coronary bypass surgery patients, at six academic medical centers (most of which were religious), people who unknowingly received prayer fared absolutely no differently than those who received none at all. And people who received prayer and knew they were being prayed for felt stressed by that knowledge and actually had more complications probably due to the psychological pressure to recover faster and not let their god down.
Now I know critics are going to say you can’t test God, and you just have to take it on faith, but you apply that same mindset to any other myth, superstition, or conspiracy theory, and you’ll get eye rolls, face palms, or shipped off to a looney bin because you’re a gullible peddler of nonsense and credulity is and should be pitied! Others will say that prayer only works when you don’t doubt, and testing it is doubting it. But that’s like saying that a magic trick works better the more gullible you are. You may further argue that God answers prayers, but sometimes he says yes, other times he says no, and sometimes he says wait, which oddly are exactly the same results I get if I pray to a can of beans!
Now prayer studies are just one way to prove to me the existence of god, and there are others, but all of the evidence gathered points to no deity at all, and so far, no evidence brought forth in favor of god has ever even remotely held up under scrutiny.
Remember, the burden of proof lies on the person making the claim. And no divine claim has ever been proven. Don’t drink the Koolaid!
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