Tuesday, July 06, 2010

6 (Unlikely) Developments That Could Convince This Atheist To Believe in God

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AlterNet / By Greta Christina

6 (Unlikely) Developments That Could Convince This Atheist To Believe in God

Atheists often point out that religious faith is closed off to evidence that contradicts it. What evidence would persuade atheists that their atheism was mistaken?

July 4, 2010

If I'm such an open-minded atheist -- if I really am an atheist because I think the God hypothesis is unsupported by the evidence -- what evidence for God would I accept? What would it take to change my mind?

Atheists often ask religious believers, "What evidence would convince you that you were mistaken?" We like to point out that religious beliefs are usually unfalsifiable -- there's no possible evidence that could prove them wrong, thus rendering them utterly useless. And even if they're falsifiable in theory (as any belief in a 6,000 year old Earth ought to be), they wind up being unfalsifiable in practice, with an endless series of denialism and goalpost-moving and "God works in mysterious ways" waffling. We often point out that the very definition of religious faith is believing without evidence, even believing in spite of evidence that flatly contradicts the faith. We point out that, when asked "What would convince you that your belief was mistaken?", the answer from believers is typically, "Nothing. Nothing would convince me that my God is not real. That's what it means to have faith." (Which makes accusing atheists of arrogance more than a little absurd... but that's not important right now.)

And atheists like to point out that this isn't true for us: Atheists are open to the possibility that we might be wrong and that the reason we don't believe in God is that we haven't seen good evidence for him -- if we see better evidence, we'll change our minds.

But I'll admit that I've been lazy about spelling out what that evidence actually is. When the subject comes up, I've tended to point to the legendary (in atheist circles, anyway) essay on this subject, The Theist's Guide to Converting Atheists, by Daylight Atheism blogger Ebonmuse. I've tended to just point to that piece, and say, "What he said. That's more or less what I think."

But that seems like cheating. If I'm going to insist that my atheism is falsifiable, I bloody well ought to be willing to think carefully about what, exactly, would falsify it. Not for some other really smart atheist -- for me. And I ought to be willing to spell that out in public.

So it's time to go out on a limb. It's time to put up or shut up.

Here are the pieces of evidence that would convince me that God was real. Not necessarily that God was good, or worth worshipping -- simply that he/ she/ it/they existed.

And here, side by side with that, are some of the kinds of evidence that would not convince me God or the supernatural exists. Kinds of evidence that are typically offered by believers in debates with atheists, so often it's depressingly predictable. Kinds of evidence that flatly do not hold up. (All inspired, obviously, by the abovementioned Theist's Guide to Converting Atheists. From which I am stealing this whole idea outright.)

An Unambiguous Message

What would convince me: If I saw an unambiguous message from God, I would be persuaded of his existence. If I saw writing suddenly appear in the sky, in letters a hundred feet high, saying "I Am God, I Exist, Here Is What I Want You To Do" -- and if that writing were seen by every human being, written in whatever language they understand, comprehended in the same way by everyone who saw it -- I would be persuaded that God existed. I'd be puzzled as to why he'd waited this long -- why he'd decided to do it in 2010 and not at any other time in human history -- but I'd still believe.

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