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What would it take?
05-14-2009, 11:04 AM
Post: #1
What would it take?
By and large, atheists have no belief in god(s) due to a lack of evidence. However, most atheists I know WOULD change their beliefs if sufficient evidence was provided. So, I was wondering what evidence the atheists out there would consider to be proof.

GT, Clarence, and I touched on this briefly here, and Clarence suggessted it's own thread. Good idea!

If ignorance is bliss why aren't there more happy people?
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05-14-2009, 11:12 AM
Post: #2
RE: What would it take?
It is a good idea for its own thread. For me, a couple of things could do it. Clear evidence of a miracle that actually violated the laws of physics wouldn't do it on its own, but it would definitely send my thinking in that direction. A huge, globally-witnessed miracle (splitting the moon in two, making the sun stand still or go backwards, etc.) would do this. A clear message from God witnessed by multiple large groups of people in different places would also do the trick.

I am also a student of prophecy, especially so-called "end-times" prophecy. I know what to expect, and if the end times start happening I imagine that I'll be able to identify what's going on fairly quickly (I'm not just talking fundie Christian either, I like apocalypse myths and I'm fairly well versed in them from all cultures.) If the world begins ending precisely the way a particular religion said that it would, that would certainly make me consider that religion in a new light.

Third, scientific discovery. If there really is a true religion, I expect that as we begin to discover the true nature of the universe we will uncover evidence of it. Like in Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy of fantasy novels, when their scientists discover the true existence of angels. I'd probably be inclined to accept that, assuming the science was clear and peer-reviewed.

Finally, I'd be willing to accept personal experience . . . but only my personal experience. If I have a "Saul on the road to Damascus" moment (and I mean the whole thing, seeing the vision, being blinded, and having a prophet remove the blindness, because just one of those things could easily be faked or coincidence,) then I'd probably become a believer right then. That's clear evidence to me. I wouldn't expect anyone else to believe it, but I probably would if it actually happened to me.

So there's a whole lot of things that could make me believe. It's just I don't really believe any of these things are ever going to happen, hence me being an atheist, but I try to keep an open mind. Facts should lead to conclusions, they should not be twisted to fit pre-existing conclusions, so if new facts become available, I will re-evaluate my conclusions.
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05-14-2009, 11:31 AM
Post: #3
RE: What would it take?
Good post GT. I would even agree with most of it.

I also don't think anecdotal accounts of a miracle would change my beliefs immediately, especially when we already have stories such as "The Miracle of the Sun" from Fatima, Portugal. Although independent verification of such a miracle from several large groups might help.

I'm not sure how I feel about end of the world prophecies either. I doubt I'm as well versed in them as you, but the ones that I've read tend to be vague enough to fit many situations.

Scientific evidence I would accept as well. I think a personal experience would have to be incredible indeed though.

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05-14-2009, 12:26 PM
Post: #4
RE: What would it take?
Prophecies make their living on being vague, but that tends to stop when you hit the "end of the world" scenario. Lets take Revelation. There's a few things that honestly have to happen for the world to end, according to Revelation.

1. Water turns to blood.
2. The sun gets hotter. And I'm not talking global warming, I'm talking "third degree burns from a walk down the street" hot.
3. Boils break out. On everyone.

There's lots more. Now you can try to make these things out to be metaphors and say they are happening now. People do. I don't buy that. But let me tell you, if the ACTUAL sea turns into ACTUAL blood, and plastic left out in the sun starts melting, and there's an epidemic of boils over 95+ percent of the population, then I'm going to sit up and take notice.

I'd probably also sit up and take notice if there ever actually is a world dictator. You know, that whole antichrist thing. Or if the Muslims give the temple back to the Jews, they find the true Ark of the Covenant, and sacrifices begin again.

Again, I'm not talking about metaphor. I'm talking about the prophecies coming true in a more or less literal fashion.
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05-14-2009, 05:07 PM
Post: #5
RE: What would it take?
(05-14-2009 11:04 AM)damian.hoffman Wrote:  By and large, atheists have no belief in god(s) due to a lack of evidence. However, most atheists I know WOULD change their beliefs if sufficient evidence was provided. So, I was wondering what evidence the atheists out there would consider to be proof.

I wrote about this on my blog some time ago. But since I'm fairly certain nobody except spambots reads my blog, here is what I posted:

What would it take…

to make me a believer again?

I run across that question a lot, and I honestly haven’t come up with a solid answer as yet. Obviously, the standard response would be something along the lines of a breaking of physical laws that is repeatable. Essentially a miracle, but one that doesn’t just happen once. No, it must be a miracle that happens again and again. But even that can be subject to interpretation: Is it truly a miracle, or merely another physical law that has been discovered?

It’s a hard question to answer, which is perhaps why it gets asked by believers again and again.

Another typical response to the question “What would it take for you to believe?” is to ask for a revelation from God himself. If he would just make an appearance, do a few tricks, and answer some particularly hard questions, then the atheist would no longer hold back and would, supposedly commit herself to God. This is, of course, exactly what Christians claim God did. But again, the Bible is open to interpretation, and not nearly as objective as believers would like to think.

None of these answers completely satisfies me. Maybe something will come eventually, but until then, what I usually do is simply ask the question back to the believer.

“What would it take to make you an unbeliever?”

The vast majority of responses to that question can be summed up in one word: Nothing. For many believers, there is simply nothing that would make them change their beliefs. Apparently no amount of evidence or proof can convert them to unbelief.

If the believer is immune to the possibility of a change of heart, it seems disingenuous for them to require the non-believer to come up with a scenario for their own change of heart.

Further, since the claims of theism have already been proven false to me and most atheists, perhaps the question is meaningless. After all, if I have already proven to myself that 1 + 1 ≠ 3, it would seem silly to ask what it would take to make me believe that 1 + 1 = 3. If my investigation has shown me that the Bible is not divinely inspired, that prayers don’t get answered, that there are no such things as souls, and I have then concluded that God does not exist, it would in turn be silly to ask me what would change my mind while ignoring the results of my investigation; because if I had determined that the Bible is divinely inspired, prayers are answered, and eternal souls are real, one presumes that I would have no reason to continue being an atheist.

So it seems there is an answer to the question “What would it take for me to become a believer?” Simple. No miracles necessary. No need for a command performance from God.

Just prove to me that Christian doctrine is true.

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05-29-2009, 02:38 PM (This post was last modified: 05-30-2009 01:17 PM by Stereophonic.)
Post: #6
RE: What would it take?
(05-14-2009 05:07 PM)MerryAtheist Wrote:  ...there is an answer to the question “What would it take for me to become a believer?” Simple. No miracles necessary. No need for a command performance from God...Just prove to me that Christian doctrine is true.

You have to start somewhere--do you have a specific Christian doctrine in mind?

And you'd have to be more specific on what you mean by "proof." Do you mean we'd have to get scientists to do some particular battery of experiments and conclude unanimously that Jesus was really born of a virgin?

Doctrine is an aspect of theology, and theology is the philosophical study of God. In philosophical matters, we don't usually talk about "proof" in the scientific sense, but rather we talk about coherence, logically valid arguments given certain presuppositions, and overall explanatory power.

Of course, if someone's mind is closed, no amount of proof could ever convince them of anything they didn't already want to believe.


(05-14-2009 05:07 PM)MerryAtheist Wrote:  ...What would it take to make you an unbeliever?

My position is that the vast majority of people in all cultures throughout history have believed in some sort of deity/deities. We all intuitively know that nothing can come from nothing, and so there must be a cause for whatever there is that exists. Left unchecked, this intuitive belief would result in an infinite regression, and so it has to stop somewhere, and that "somewhere" is God, who is more than just an entity which exists, but indeed the very ground of all existence (and this, coincidentally, is the name God gives for himself in Exodus 3:14).

So for me to abandon belief God, as a properly basic belief of most humans throughout history, a radical change would have to occur in my thinking. It is probably easier to describe what would cause me to abandon my faith in Jesus. I suppose two things would have to occur: first, there would have to be some evidence that Jesus did not rise from the dead; and second, some better explanation for the universe and human beings would have to come along. Without both of these two things, I can't really think of anything that could cause me to lose faith in Jesus.

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05-30-2009, 06:54 PM
Post: #7
RE: What would it take?
(05-29-2009 02:38 PM)Stereophonic Wrote:  You have to start somewhere--do you have a specific Christian doctrine in mind?

While it may not be a specific doctrine, the idea that some part of our being can exist beyond physical death is a good place to start. If you can convince me of the existence of a "spirit" and/or "soul" (take your pick), and by this I mean an entity that somehow interacts with us while alive, and lives on after our death, well then, I'd be halfway to believing God all over again.

Show me some proof, some evidence apart from philosophical and/or emotional appeals that leaves me no reasonable option but to conclude that souls and/or spirits are real. Do that, and I might just start going to church again (eventually).

By the way, you won't get far with me by simply referencing the Bible. I do not accept that collection of writings as authoritative and therefore it has no meaning for me.

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05-31-2009, 07:34 AM (This post was last modified: 05-31-2009 09:32 AM by Stereophonic.)
Post: #8
RE: What would it take?
(05-30-2009 06:54 PM)MerryAtheist Wrote:  ...If you can convince me of the existence of a "spirit" and/or "soul" (take your pick), and by this I mean an entity that somehow interacts with us while alive, and lives on after our death, well then, I'd be halfway to believing God all over again...Show me some proof, some evidence apart from philosophical and/or emotional appeals that leaves me no reasonable option but to conclude that souls and/or spirits are real...

Since the soul is in theory immaterial, we're not likely to reach a point where science can say, "Here it is, we've discovered a soul." As the aphorism goes, "Science does not discover the self/soul; rather, the self/soul discovers science."

But we do have to ask ourselves, which of the following options is more likely?

1. The idea that our experience of ourselves as conscious, thinking, rational, conceptualizing entities with volition and moral accountability arose by purely physical processes, or...

2. The idea that this same experience of ourselves is grounded in something beyond the purely physical--i.e., something immaterial.

It seems to me (and to the majority of people throughout history) that the second of these two options is more probable; and since science really cannot comment one way or the other, it is thus more logical to accept the second option unless/until a better option presents itself. I suggest that atheism becomes attractive to some people not because option #1, above, is more reasonable than option #2; rather, people become atheists because they simply don't like the picture of God that they have found in various places of worship or in the scriptures of the various religions. Thus the decision to adopt atheism is based more on emotion than on logic.

To tak another line of thought, we might would examine all of the accounts we have of near-death experiences. While not all of the accounts are as helpful as others, some of the accounts are very difficult to explain away without recourse to a disembodied, thinking, perceiving self/soul.

My last thought is the historical matter of Jesus' resurrection (and of course I am asuming here that Jesus' bodily resurrection, if it occurred, would count as evidence for a soul that lives on after death). All of the historical evidence we have--biblical and nonbiblical--supports the fact that Jesus really was executed and really died on a Roman cross. If we accept the historical evidence that Jesus really did die on the cross, then the origin of the Christian Church (currently over two billion strong) is very difficult to understand in a historical sense unless Jesus really did rise from the dead. As N.T. Wright says,

Quote:...the historian may and must say that all other explanations for why Christianity arose, and why it took the shape it did, are far less convincing as historical explanations than the one the early Christians themselves offer: that Jesus really did rise from the dead on Easter morning, leaving an empty tomb behind him. The origins of Christianity, the reason why this new movement came into being and took the unexpected form it did, and particularly the strange mutations it produced within the Jewish hope for resurrection and the Jewish hope for a Messiah, are best explained by saying that something happened, two or three days after Jesus’ death, for which the accounts in the four gospels are the least inadequate expression we have.

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05-31-2009, 10:29 AM
Post: #9
RE: What would it take?
(05-31-2009 07:34 AM)Stereophonic Wrote:  But we do have to ask ourselves, which of the following options is more likely?

1. The idea that our experience of ourselves as conscious, thinking, rational, conceptualizing entities with volition and moral accountability arose by purely physical processes, or...

2. The idea that this same experience of ourselves is grounded in something beyond the purely physical--i.e., something immaterial.

For me, #1 is the most likely option. It is a reasonable explanation given what we know about the evolution of and functioning processes of the brain. It is an explanation that is supported by evidence in biology, neurology, anthropology, psychology, geology, paleontology, and a host of other "ologies" as well. In fact, there so much information supporting this explanation, that theories referring to an immaterial entity or "soul" are not necessary.

The idea of the soul, like many other traditional beliefs of humanity throughout history, has been rendered unnecessary by advances in knowledge and should be discarded, like geocentrism, heliocentrism, and other folk-beliefs based on magical thinking.

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05-31-2009, 10:46 AM
Post: #10
RE: What would it take?
(05-31-2009 10:29 AM)MerryAtheist Wrote:  ...The idea of the soul, like many other traditional beliefs of humanity throughout history, has been rendered unnecessary by advances in knowledge and should be discarded, like geocentrism, heliocentrism, and other folk-beliefs based on magical thinking.

Okay, if we disagree about the nature of the evidence, there's not much more to say except that your position is the minority view even among scientists. Of course, that doesn't mean it's wrong, necessarily.

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