The final question from My Questions For a Bible School Student was highly unoriginal. It has been asked in countless debates between theists and atheists, and should continue to be asked every single time.

The answer that most theists give is some variation of “nothing”. You can imagine what it would take for you to change your mind about the love of your spouse, your biological relation to your children or parents, your own name, or your memory-wiped history as a secret spy assassin. Are you really honest with yourself if your answer is “nothing”?

Question From Me

What would make you change your mind about your faith?

Answer From Student (with my commentary)

“The Apostle Paul lays out in chapter 15 verse 17 of 1st Corinthians what would make me change my mind about my faith: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” If this is the case, then Paul writes two verses later that, “we are to be pitied more than all men,” for we have falsely testified about God.”

From this, I infer that you mean that only evidence that Christ has NOT been raised would make you change your mind.

Of course, Christ being raised from the dead is a positive claim, and it is the positive claim must be proven, not the negation. I cannot expect someone to prove that Santa doesn’t deliver all the presents… we would want evidence that Santa does deliver presents.

The question is… is there sufficient evidence to believe that Christ DID rise from the dead? (For those interested, I looked in detail at An Evidence Attested Resurrection? earlier this year.)

“I know Christ is risen from my experience, which is likewise in agreement with countless other believers as well.”

As we explored in the previous question, personal experience is not a reliable way to know anything. Billions of other believers in thousands of other faiths had equally visceral and compelling personal experiences, and you would consider them to be mistaken. (As they would consider you.) How do you know that you are not fooling yourself, as I once fooled myself?

But more to the point, since disproving Christ’s resurrection would cause you to change your mind, and since the way you know this is from your experience only, then what would change your mind is for you to doubt your own experience. To doubt experiences that you agree cannot be easily distinguished from well-known psychological and neurological phenomenon.

It sounds like you owe it to yourself to take an honest, dispassionate look at those experiences. Since you build your entire faith upon them, it would be good to be sure.

“But thats the beauty of faith, my salvation is riding on me. Because God’s word is true, this hope will not be put to shame (Rom. 5:5).”

I assume that the assertion that “God’s word is true” is similarly established only by personal experience.

“It is not what I have done, for I am not perfect and surely cannot meet God’s standard.”

“In order to know that Christ was not raised from the dead and that there is no God, I myself would have to be God.”

I guess that depends on your definition of “know”, which is always slippery.

Though, again, you appeal to the proof of a negation, which I would again point out is a logical fallacy. It is the positive claim that requires evidence. You would similarly have to be God in order to know that there are no unicorns, fairies, Smurfs, nor the pantheon of gods sitting at Mount Olympus. Do you accept all of these as existing, since only an omniscient being can know for sure?

Fortunately, to know that Christ was raised from the dead would not require you to have to be a god. Mere mortals could know that there is a god. All it would take is evidence, and a god willing to provide it.

My Response

Concluding this exercise, I will endeavor to answer my own question. What would it take for me to change my mind about the existence of God?

Evidence.

That’s it. That’s all. Sufficient evidence.

You may rightfully ask, “But Paul, what kind of evidence would possibly be good enough for you?” And this is an excellent question.

My answer? I don’t know what evidence would be sufficient for me to accept the existence of God… but if there is a God, HE KNOWS what it would be, and he chooses not to reveal it.

Until then, I wait. Unconvinced.

3 thoughts on “MQFABSS #6 – What Would Change Your Mind?

  1. I visit and enjoy this blog fairly often and hope I’m not being a nuisance by adding another comment here. I have been “godless” for years now and while I initially struggled and lost sleep, having been raised in a Christian home, I’m now quite at peace. So much so, that “atheism” has not been much of a preoccupation.

    I think the question “what would it take to change your mind” is complicated. I’m not sure theism and atheism are quite so dichotomous. God is still a part of my life in the sense that my relatives will use the word in correspondence, prayer is offered (to deity God), and so on. There’s little I can do but accept that God will always be there as long as I live in a world with theists, and possibly not strictly theists but humans. What this means to me is that although I have no basis to believe in a bearded man in the heavens, nor a flaming-eyed personage with a sword coming out of his mouth, nor (insert other God-description here), God continues to be present in the belief and experience of others, influencing their actions along with the collective churning of history. I can – and do – act as if God does not matter, but God can not (yet) be extricated from the workings of humans in the world. In that sense, my understanding is that God is quintessentially human as opposed to divine or supernatural, moreso than many other things we share with other creatures (could dolphins be saved? Surely some have sinned). Further, while God has almost certainly never existed as an independent person or being – i.e. independent of a human mind – there’s nothing I can do aside from dying, becoming utterly demented or comatose, to completely extract him from my life. In this context, pure atheism – and the term can spark endless debate – becomes quite strenuous.

    Freud dismissed the “oceanic feeling”; I’ve experienced it and suspect that had I not been raised with the idea of God presented at every turn, the feeling and idea would still be there. “Somebody bigger than you and me” has been around for awhile, maybe before civilization. “Dominus nobiscum” – God with us – resonates, but would there be a God without us? Not so much without the zealots and dogmatic leaders, but the quirky modularity of the human brain, which is not entirely unique in the sense of being homologous/homoplastic with many other creatures. This is more or less evolutionary psychology, which makes the most sense to me. God as a resident of Popper’s “World 3”, not as a person you could physically or spiritually have a beer with in the afterlife. I have no objection to the assertion of the “God-shaped vacuum”. Judging from the sheer number of religious adherents in this world, it appears to be a thing.

    I think simple curiosity wins over the extremes in this debate. On the one hand, it’s bemusing to read recycled, unreflected doctrine (no disrespect or condescension intended to commenters, just why wouldn’t you question that which is most dear to you? I ask that of myself as well). On this other hand, there’s always the element of “what do I know?”. How can I rail, as Dawkins does, against the evils of religion when the fact is that probably most people on earth engage in this activity? It could also be that God-tropism is adaptive. Michael Blume has some interesting articles on the reproductive benefit of being religious, arguing that both religious genetic dispositions and accompanying traditions are selected for.

    You mention evidence, and I know this is the “correct” answer to the question. But this is the tricky part. There are many types and standards of evidence: circumstantial, axiomatic, observational, material, repeatable, falsifiable, etc., some of which overlap but none of which is exactly the same thing. Often, the more stringently these are pursued, the further they recede. The evidence may have several components, and several exclusive explanations. The greater discipline of science is rightfully celebrated for taking evidence seriously, and has furnished us with universal notions of the world that include heliocentrism and evolution. It’s probably fair to say, though, that these were notions before they were science: the science constitutes more of an intermediary stage, a process of examination leading to something we might describe as degrees of verification, along with sub-verifications of additional subtleties. And, although it’s the best tool we have for examining notions, science – at least research science – is not particularly clean: see the work of John Ioannidis for examples. If Ioannidis is right, the majority of published science is wrong (although I suppose that which is right is “very” right). It’s not as if this guy is on the fringe – he has many admirers in the research community. And much of what Ioannidis is talking about is the mundane sort of medical epidemiology: questions of relatively extreme simplicity such as: if we give this purified molecule PO to someone for x condition, do they live longer? Even with such simple questions, there’s a lot to potentially get wrong. What do we do with the complicated questions?

    You’ve analyzed many intractable inconsistencies with contemporary Christian scriptural world view as understood in an unsustainable way – a way that many dogmatists cling to. I don’t wish to underappreciate the scholarship that’s evident in your posts, but they highlight the ease with which the system can be dismantled. I stopped asking questions in Sunday School because the obvious discomfort of my teachers made me uncomfortable. I stopped attending shortly thereafter. Eventually, I found questions that interested me more, in other company; in this vein, I would love to see you expand further on the sort of evidence that “God, if he exists” knows would reach you. Ultimately, as far as I can tell, any evidence that can be collected to support or refute an hypothesis (of any kind) is by nature temporal, transitory, and inferential. This is not to denigrate science, which is unequivocally a triumph. If there is any absolute, however, it is probably in the limitations of evidence to inform. There’s no convincing “evidence” of the material existence of pink unicorns, and likely never will be, but I know what you’re talking about when you speak of them. I’m capable of drawing a reasonable one that you would be able to identify. Peirceian semiotics explores this sort of thing wonderfully. If we agree that God falls into the category of pink unicorns, the attestation may amount to “I know it when I see/experience it, and I’m seeing/experiencing it”. One says “show me the evidence” and the other says “look, it’s a pink unicorn!”: talking past each other, albeit not necessarily in that order.

    Faith could be invoked here. I recently ran across a definition of faith as “something that is not negotiable” (during a facebook atheism thread, incidentally). I like this definition and have adopted it. During his one and only post in the aforementioned debate, this person (his name appeared to be pseudonymous) made the point that there are many things that we unthinkingly accept without evidence. Examples, ex Wittgenstein, include that the world didn’t spring into being 5 minutes ago, and that the moon is not made of Swiss cheese. Is this faith? Unconscious homeostasis-driven guesses based on experience? Conceptual nonentities that only take form in contemplation and not otherwise in life? These are of course negative examples; positive ones would include “there will be light in the morning”, or “my leg will support me if I extend it outward”. A clever enough interlocutor could cast some doubt on these propositions, in spite of “evidence” that could be provided. We could say that it’s possible, albeit very unlikely based on experience, that these propositions are false. The question then arises: what is non-negotiable? Is there anything about which we can say “this is the way and there is no other”? Such a proposition is antithetical to inquiry. Ethical principles are sometimes given as non-negotiables; one doesn’t have to look far to find exceptions, even “God-sanctioned” exceptions, such as the killing of people. The point is that many things we accept without evidence would likely become more problematic were we to search for evidence, and that faith should be distinguished from unreflected habit – inertia of thinking or being – to the extent that faith recedes from everyday life into the realm of an ideal.

    Maybe a more interesting phenomenon is that of the notion itself: the understanding or “putting together” of the world, which has been called the “hard problem”. According to Wittgenstein, the question: “how is that verified?” in some cases “makes no sense”; the example of this is given as the proposition “I’ve got a toothache”; potentially, the firing of nociceptive fibres could be measured to support this, but the subjective experience of someone else’s toothache is much less accessible, if at all. How much moreso for “God is real”? If there cannot be a way to verify such a proposition, what are we to do except take it at face value for the one who proclaims it? Maybe you can say: I do not see convincing circumstantial evidence that God is necessary for x natural process to proceed, and by God, I mean an ineffable humanoid, or something. I would argue that the exercise of invoking science to evaluate such a statement fails badly, notwithstanding the travails of Scientism’s recent apologists: Dawkins and Dennett for examples, who as far as I’m concerned should be read along with the Pragmatists. I’m showing true colours, but as a bad atheist I’m at odds with assertions that science can settle such questions. It’s more of a “gut feeling”.

    I realize the foregoing has involved a lot of name-dropping and potentially less substance, and probably should have been written much more concisely. What would it take to change my mind, i.e. back to God? My almost certain incapacity to do such a thing aside, I’m not convinced that I’m so far away from my youthful insomnia. I haven’t exchanged my mind as much as grown/shrunk it; I think my tolerances for uncertainty have changed, and I sleep better at night (unless my baby daughter wakes up), don’t pray, don’t believe, but have found a way to live with God’s pervasive ubiquity, and apparent absence.

    Liked by 1 person

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