A Clarification on the Theist's Guide

I feel as though I need to clarify something.

In my Ebon Musings essay, “The Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists“, I wrote that I would link to any theist who was willing to post a list of things they would accept as proof that atheism is true. That offer has been open since I first posted the essay in 2001; it is still open now and will remain open as long as practical.

However, for me to consider your essay a valid answer to that challenge, it must answer the question I actually posed: What argument or observation could convince you to not believe in God? If what your essay argues is, “You could never persuade me to not believe in God and here’s why,” then you are not answering the question that I asked. I will not link to responses that do not give a legitimate answer to this question.

In fact, responses of this nature emphasize my point rather than contradict it: for most theists, belief in God is an unfalsifiable construct bearing no relation to the facts of the world. That is what I wrote at the beginning of the Theist’s Guide:

Many theists, by their own admission, structure their beliefs so that no evidence could possibly disprove them. In short, they are closed-minded, and have been taught to be closed-minded.

What this means is that, for me to account your answer valid, it must consist of something that we could, at least in principle, either agree upon or discover to be true. This rules out logical impossibilities, such as “I would become an atheist if I died and then discovered that there was no consciousness after death.” (I’ve heard that one.) It also rules out counterfactual statements – saying that you would cease to believe in God only if the world was different than it is, for example, that you would become an atheist if there were no such thing as love or goodness. (I’ve heard both of those as well.)

If all the items that would drive you to atheism are counterfactuals, i.e., things that we already know not to be true, then what you’re essentially saying is that there are no possible discoveries that would make you an atheist, and you have again failed to respond to the point of the challenge. This would be like me saying, “The only possible thing that would make me believe in God would be if the world was a perfect paradise that contained no death, evil or suffering.” I think most theists would consider this unfair, and rightfully so. I’m ruling out their answer from the start by making my belief contingent on something that we already know is not true.

Now, if you’re arguing that you would cease to believe in God if some particular, widely held proposition were falsified, that is a different matter. But in that case, I’d expect that you would supplement this answer by explaining what evidence would falsify the proposition in question. On the other hand, when someone says they’d be an atheist only if there was no love in the world, that’s clearly not their intent. They’re not imagining a discovery that might be made in this world, but speculating that they’d be an atheist in a different world altogether. I trust that the difference between those two things is clear.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.


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