Atheist: What Evidence is Required to Change Religions?

What can I do after answering a question repeatedly in many ways, yet am told over and over that I haven’t answered at all?

The words of MR, an atheist, will be in blue. Words of fellow atheist Bob Seidensticker will be in green. MR was commenting on a discussion thread that became my paper, “Why Do We Worship God? Dialogue with an Atheist.”

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[from the “Worship” dialogue]

Bob Seidensticker: How much evidence would you need to convert to some other religion? That’s probably how much I’d need.

Me: I can’t tell you how much you need, because that is your thing, that I am exploring. I’m delving into your epistemology, and your fundamental axioms and premises, not mine. You say you need more evidence, so the natural question to ask is: how much is enough? What would this look like for you?

Sorry to jump in here, but I was really looking forward to you answering this question. I’m very interested in how much evidence you would need.

If that’s directed towards me, I have answered in one way or another in scores of articles. I am asking Bob currently because he brought it up; yet he is very reluctant to reply to my simple question. He wants to keep moving the questioning back to me as the recipient. Atheists very typically do this, but I don’t do one-way discussions. I do dialogues. I challenge the other guy, too. On my site, it’s not only the Christian who is always on the defensive, always on the hot seat. Atheists receive scrutiny, too. They don’t like that — aren’t used to it at all — , but that’s reality and life. Tough!

Bob raised the question, but I think it’s an important question and I, myself, am asking you what you would need to convert to some other religion. What kind of evidence would you require?

Briefly, I would have to be unpersuaded of all that I believe in Catholicism, just as I was systematically unpersuaded (mostly through my own intense study) of Protestantism within Christianity. I became a Catholic in 1990 at age 32 after 13 committed (and happy) years of Protestant evangelicalism.

Then I would have to be shown how and why another religion was ubiquitously superior to Catholicism: what in its claims can overthrow my present belief-system.

I am a Catholic and a Christian because of a large accumulation of all sorts of evidences and arguments (theological, biblical, historical, philosophical, scientific, experiential), considered together as a whole, and compelling in effect. Initially, I think most believe in God because it is a “properly basic belief”: as I alluded to in my dialogue with Bob.

So, you still haven’t answered the question. “Prove to me I’m wrong” isn’t evidence for another religion. Suppose someone did prove you wrong, how would that be evidence that another religion is right? And, are you saying that a religion being “superior” (whatever that means) is a reason to believe?

In context, I meant that it would have to be a superior alternative intellectually and rationally, i.e., that it would have more evidences and reasons in its favor than my current Catholicism does, and would be able to debunk my current reasons, so that I could conclude that it was true, rather than Catholicism.

I would be surprised if you really believed that. Besides, how is that evidence?

You were the one to ask Bob what evidence he would require, but now you shy away from answering it yourself. In addition, you criticized Bob for not directly answering it!

I think Bob has made an important point, The evidence he would require is probably on par with the evidence you would require to believe a religion you don’t already believe. If you think it so easy for Bob, why can’t you provide an example yourself, then we could see if the evidence you would require is on par with Bob’s. You seem a reasonable person; I suspect it would be. Why shy away?

Of course I answered, and as usual it is never enough, in these sorts of discussions. I answered (and it’s absurd to now claim that I didn’t), whereas Bob indisputably punted the same sort of question: when I inquired as to what evidence would make him believe in God: how much would be enough. He wants to avoid it, and claims that only Christians are supposed to be questioned. I addressed it head-on, in reply to you (as I have all his arguments). But it’s a very complex question, so I had to do it only in nutshell form. Nevertheless, the entire essence of a longer answer is there.

I have a massive accumulation of evidences for the truth of Christianity and specifically Catholicism, that I find compelling. As an apologist, I have that many more than a non-apologist, because I’m defending my belief-system against the charges of folks like Bob all the time.

All that has to be overthrown. As I said: “I would have to be shown how and why another religion was ubiquitously superior to Catholicism: what in its claims can overthrow my present belief-system.” Positive arguments for another superior view would be required for me to adopt another religion and not just be in “limbo.”

I didn’t say it was an easy question to answer, but it can be answered with a simple summary statement, as I did. He refused to do that, I did not. I don’t bow to double standards in discussion.

But my discussion with him was precisely about what his requirements are, not mine. Atheists generally squirm when asked fundamental, bottom-line epistemological questions about their own belief-systems, and I think many of them do because they know down-deep that they don’t have very good reasons; at any rate, no more immediately compelling than the bottom-line reasons [more intellectual and theologically educated type] Christians give for their beliefs.

And I pointed out that what you gave is not even considered evidence. You danced around the question, exactly as you accuse Bob. If someone walked up to you and said, “My religion is absolutely the one and only true religion, and I can prove it to you. Ask me for any evidence you like and I can give it to you.” What evidence would you ask for?

Obviously, “theological, biblical [or alternate claimed inspired / divine / revelatory holy book], historical, philosophical, scientific, experiential” evidence and reasoning and facts.

Lol! For example? Sheesh, it’s like pulling teeth.

I don’t see why you have such a hard time comprehending all this.

But you choose to pester me to answer a thing that is off-topic, and I answer, then you claim I haven’t;

Because you haven’t. If Jane believes in animism and someone completely convinces her that she is wrong, that is not then evidence for Hinduism. If Jane believes in Catholicism and someone completely convinces her that she is wrong, that is still not evidence for Hinduism.

whereas you won’t encourage Bob to give any answer (which was the topic, that he initially / voluntarily brought up, along with several other topics; underneath a lengthy dialogue about hell).

The whole point is, is the evidence you would require to believe a religion you don’t currently believe similar to what Bob would require? That is the point. When you can honestly answer the question, something that you seem to be having trouble with, then we can turn to Bob and say, “Is this reasonable evidence?”

Always diversions and unseemly nitpicking . . .

Well, it’s not a diversion or nitpicking for me, it’s an important question to me.

I should add also that it’s not the same going from one form of religion to another, compared to going from atheism to theism and then possibly also some religious belief. We have an entire set of propositions that we believe, of many sorts. That’s why I said I would have to be unpersuaded of my present belief-system first; then go on to consider some alternate claims.

For Christianity, the usual locus, if there is one, is Jesus Christ. One would have to prove either that He didn’t exist at all, or that His crucifixion and/or Resurrection and/or post-Resurrection appearances did not occur. This comes under historical argumentation and evidences. I don’t think anyone has come within a million miles of demonstrating any of that. Paul in the Bible says that denial of the Resurrection alone would essentially bring Christianity down:

1 Corinthians 15:13-20 (RSV) But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised;  [14] if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.  [15] We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. [16] For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. [17] If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. [18] Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. [19] If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. [20] But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

If that were proven to me, I imagine that I would join Judaism as the next best thing: which is identical to or consistent with most of what I believe, but without Jesus as the Messiah and Savior. In other words, that would entail a denial of trinitarianism as well. But I’d still be a monotheist and in the Old Testament biblical tradition and rabbinic traditions.

For monotheism to be overthrown, and to move to eastern-type religion, many other arguments would have to be made.

I’ve answered [your question] in a hundred different ways throughout my blog and its 2000+ articles and my 49 theological books. It’s complex: C-O-M-P-L-E-X, but can be summarized briefly, as I did (which is what rational, busy people do when asked about complex questions and/or complex beliefs that they themselves hold).

What you’re asking is like asking someone who adores his wife (as I do): “why do you love your wife? I wanna know every single reason why; every jot and tittle.” And most people would say, “it’s a thousand reasons all amounting to one: she’s wonderful!” At best one could break down the many reasons into broad categories, which I did.

I summarized my reasons, and Bob could do the same thing. It required only a simple reply, and most atheists in my experience actually readily give an answer to this particular question. They might say, for example, “God has to rearrange the stars so that they spell out, ‘I exist'” or “Jesus has to appear right before my eyes [like Doubting Thomas] or be raised from the dead in my presence.”

But Bob didn’t do that. He switched it right over to me, which is a cheap and unworthy junior high school debating trick.

You’re still avoiding my (your) question. I could[n’t] care less what you currently believe, or what the 9/11 hijackers believed, or what Ghandi [sic] believed, I want to know what evidence would convince you/them/me to believe something else.

BS! At this point I’ll adopt Bob‘s methodology, which you seem to think is fine and dandy:

Me: What do you believe is “enough” evidence?

Bob: You tell me. How much evidence would you need to convert to some other religion? That’s probably how much I’d need.

Me: On what basis can you establish what is “enough” evidence?

Bob: Ask God. He’s really smart, and he would know what it would take to convince me.

So I’ll take that mentality and apply it to your question to me:

You: I want to know what evidence would convince you/them/me to believe something else.

Me: You tell me. How much evidence would you need to convert to some religion? That’s probably how much I’d need. Ask God. He’s really smart, and he would know what it would take to convince me.

If his method was fine in reply to my question, and you have no problem with it, then obviously I need to use the same method (rather than my direct replies) to please you and answer your question, to your nitpicking, obnoxious satisfaction. So I did. Have a great day!

Sigh…, first of all, I’ve heard plenty of things that atheists have posited that could get them to believe in God, including Bob. He’s explored that theme on his blog. My own threshold is likely lower than most. What I find fascinating is that apologists are quick to throw the question out at atheists, as if to say, “No amount of evidence would be good enough you.” But, apologists are loathe to answer the question themselves. Personally, I think the reason for this is that you are just like me, the bar (rightly) needs to be sufficiently high, but you can’t criticize Bob for having a high bar if yours is high, too.

I’m confused. Is it complex or a simple reply?

He switched it right over to me, which is a cheap and unworthy junior high school debating trick.

Personally, I think he was just making an excellent point. It doesn’t change the fact that you yourself dodged the question, too. I don’t see how you can criticize Bob.

I did answer (now many times), and if you say once more that I have not, you’re outta here, because you are repeatedly lying about me, which violates my blog rules for discussion (lying about someone or anyone here).

You can have the last word. And this will be a new dialogue on my blog. It has to be seen to be believed.

What I mean is, you didn’t provide evidence. I pointed out why your answers were not evidence. You simply ignored that. I think it’s an important question that every Christian, every believer of every religion, and every atheist even should ask themselves. What evidence would I need to believe some religion I don’t currently believe in, and have I required that level of evidence to my current beliefs?

Jim DaileyDave clearly answered several times. In fact, his answer looks a lot like what I have seen Bob say about what it would take for him to convert. Please stop badgering. Bob and Dave are interesting. Your comments are not adding anything to a great discussion.

I wasn’t badgering, I was asking an honest question. I can see by now that I won’t get a straightforward answer, so, yes, I am done.

And you’re banned, too, because you have lied about me yet again, as I warned you not to do, because it violates the blog rules of ethics that are enforced fairly for all persons regardless of their beliefs or agreement with me. But your protests will be recorded in my blog paper for all to see. Every single word of yours will appear.

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Photo credit: Strait-Jacket trailer (Columbia Pictures, 1964) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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