From Atheist Meme Base.
There is a pretty common thing amongst atheists and Christians to ask the other side “what would it take to change your mind?” I’m not sure why this is the case. Perhaps both sides have been arguing for so long that there’s just nothing new under the sun and people are out of ideas on how to convert each other. Maybe it just seems like the other side is intractable and that asking them what would change their mind is a more direct way of figuring out what to say next. Maybe it’s just a desperate way to keep the debate going.
We must be clear that there are two different issues here: what would it take for an atheist to become a theist, and what would it take for an atheist to become a Christian.
My answer to the first question is: nothing. There is no possible evidence or motivation that could make me become a theist.
Let me take one of the “miracles” commonly cited as possible evidence of the existence of God: the stars aligning in a way that spells out something coherent, like “Jesus is Lord.” What would we make of such an event?
It seems to me that there are much more reasonable explanations than to believe that the event was engineered by God:
* Perhaps I am hallucinating.
* Perhaps my vision was tampered with in some way.
* Perhaps I am the victim of some elaborate prank.
* Perhaps the light coming to the Earth was tampered with by aliens.
* Perhaps I am a brain in a vat.
* Perhaps I am part of an elaborate dream.
Some of these explanations are obviously absurdly improbable, but they are still more probable than God’s existence. Unlike the God hypothesis, each of these explanations can be understood in an empirical way, and none of them rely on things we cannot define even in theory.
The basic issue here is that supernaturalist hypotheses are fundamentally untestable. To have evidence of the existence of God means to have evidence of supernatural intervention on our reality, and that’s logically impossible.
Why do many atheists say otherwise? I am not sure, but I think one issue is that atheists generally do not want to be portrayed as close-minded. To tell a Christian than nothing could change your mind may mean surrendering the “reasonableness” of open-ended “I just don’t see any reason to believe” atheism. But the only end result is that Christianity will be portrayed as more “reasonable”; it will not make Christians like atheists because their irrational hatred of atheists is based on their childhood indoctrination, not simply on false premises that can be corrected by appearing “reasonable.”
No doubt some atheists seriously believe that they could be convinced of the existence of God on such a basis. But then I’d say they were not very serious atheists, if it was so easy for them to believe all the God stories based on one event, however incredible…
Now on the second question, what it would take for me to become a Christian. It may seem like this is a non-issue, given what I’ve just said: since Christianity is based on the God concept, and I’ve rejected the possibility of the God concept, there must therefore be nothing that could ever make me into a Christian.
Still, I think that this general reasoning is incorrect, that in a sense it may be easier for one to become a Christian than to believe in God. Right now there is a significant proportion of Christians (in the UK 46%, in the US somewhere around 13%) who do not believe in a personal god. That’s food for thought, but most importantly it shows that identifying as a Christian does not necessarily mean believing in God, because religion is as much as matter of cultural identification as it is a matter of belief, an important point which the atheist movement largely ignores.
It’s another thing entirely to ask whether these people are really Christian. After all, one is a Christian, supposedly, by believing Jesus was the son of God, which would imply belief in God. But one does not necessarily have to agree with the fundamental premises of a religion to be a follower of said religion. There are some Buddhists, especially in the West, who do not believe in the soul but who meditate and follow the Five Precepts: are they Buddhists? I don’t see why not.
It’s not really relevant to the question anyway. What would it take for me to identify as a Christian? I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s impossible, but I can’t imagine any plausible scenario that starts with myself as I am today and ends with me being a Christian. The ethics of Christianity, the narratives of Christianity, the sensibilities of Christianity, the politics of Christianity, the psycho-sexual fabric of Christianity, are all so profoundly aberrated and disgusting that it would require quite a drastic change in my personality (major brain damage, perhaps) to get me to even begin to accept it. I already have two religions anyway, and I don’t really need a third one.
I suppose a Christian could reply that I have never found myself in a situation where my atheism could have been tested. I wouldn’t say that’s true, however: I have had many strange experiences in my life that I certainly cannot explain. But unlike religionists, I do not have the reflex action that goes from “I can’t explain this” to “God did it” in 3.4 seconds. I am perfectly fine with (gasp!) not knowing something that’s obscured by the passage of time and the subjectivity of perception. Praise “Bob” and pass the ammo…
But here’s something further to think about: Christians may not be entirely honest when they ask the question. William Lane Craig, the most acclaimed living Christian theologian, has publicly said that if he went back in time and observed Jesus’ tomb, and never saw Jesus come back to life, he would still be a Christian. You can read about it here.
If William Lane Craig himself could not be convinced by such a direct, observable and fatal piece of evidence, then what could exactly?