I have been an atheist for almost half my life. At one time in my youth I was a Bible believing, Bible teaching, born-again Christian, but as it is written in 1 Corinthians 13:11:
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.
I want to explain to you what an atheist is, and offer you some advice on how to convert an atheist (I’m making a North American assumption that you are a Christian and not a Muslim).
While there are some atheists who insist “there is no God”, most reasonable and mature atheists will assert, “I have seen no proof or evidence that what you call ‘God’ exists.” There is a big difference between the two positions if you are trying to convert us. If someone says to you, “There is no God,” you are well within the rules of argument and debate to ask them to prove it. They have made an affirmative statement, and have accepted the burden of proof; however, if you meet one of the latter – and I am in the latter – and you insist that God does exist then the burden of proof is on you.
First, I’ll ask you this question, “If I could present evidence to you that what you call God doesn’t exist, and that evidence is repeatable, verified, validated, and shown by all reasonable burdens of proof to be true, would you still believe?” If you answer, “Yes,” then we have nothing to discuss. To convert me, you must be open to the possibility that you are wrong as well.
I’ll tell you now, I don’t want to get into discussions of religion. Religion is highly personal, and very often where many of us find our social and cultural safety net. I have no desire to discuss with you the value of your religion over another or none. If you choose that path of discussion, it’s all on you, friend.
If we are going to discuss “God”, we need to define terms:
- What are you trying to convince me of – merely the existence of God, or the existence of your God?
- What are the defining characteristics of this God?
- What is the acceptable definition of “proof”?
Without mutual agreement on these terms, we can’t continue.
We will not be derailed from the point of the conversion. If you try to move the needle to first cause, or morality, or any one of the many philosophical and theological sideline discussions, I’ll call foul and try to get us back on point. If you can’t stay on point, the conversation will be over (I expect you to demand the same of me).
At some point in your conversion conversation you will try one or more of the following tactics on me:
- You are going to try to convince me that I truly believe in God, and that it takes “faith” to disbelieve in something.
- You are going to try some line of questioning to establish if I think I’m a good person.
- You will, at some point, say I
- am angry with God
- don’t understand the nature of God
- am just trying to be contrary/shocking
- am close minded to the possibility of God
- am arrogant and smug
- You will tell me that I haven’t really read the Bible, and if I just open my heart all will be revealed.
They will all fail, so before you even consider engaging an intelligent atheist, jettison those tools.
I am not a trained or educated philosopher, geologist, astronomer, physicist, or theologian. I will wager that you aren’t either. We both should be very careful when wading into heady and scholarly arguments (one of my characteristics of “God” is “knowable”, so if it takes only a Great Educated Mind to grasp God, then God is not knowable).
In fact, I’ll make this very easy for you. To convert an atheist that God exists show us human amputees growing a limbs back. Remember, though, that just proves that there is some supernatural deity that can overcome the laws and rules of nature and restore human limbs. That is not proof that your version of God is the right one. That’s a whole other discussion…..
(UPDATE 9/5/2014: A friend of mine asked me if spontaneous limb regeneration would be evidence for a god, or actually evidence of evolution. My first thought was that if it was evolutionary, we would have seen evidence of this remarkable trait developing over the past hundreds or thousands of generations. He pointed out that perhaps there is an as yet undiscovered tribe in the Amazon that has been regenerating limbs already. He isn’t a deep thinking sort of guy. He’d rather be shooting guns than discussing theology. But I have to admit that the sudden appearance of the ability for humans to spontaneously regrow limbs would not be sufficient evidence for me to believe in God. It would be remarkable. It may even be “miraculous”, but I can no longer say it would be proof of the supernatural.)0