How to Convert an Atheist Part 2
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Uploaded on Apr 18, 2007
A genuinely flawless and consistent holy book
True inerrancy is, so to speak, the holy grail of theism. Almost every religion claims their scripture is perfect, but none have actually met this exacting standard; I have yet to read a holy text entirely without error or self-contradiction. A book that was free of such problems would be circumstantial evidence in favor of the religion that possessed it, but not compelling, since this is still explicable as the result of purely human forces.
A religion without internal disputes or factions
It seems reasonable to expect that, if there existed a god that was interested in revealing itself to humanity and desired that we follow its commands, that god would write down whatever instructions it had to give us in a way that was only amenable to one interpretation. Thus, if a religion was true, we might expect that no factions or sects would form within it and all members of that religion would speak with one voice regarding ethical and theological issues. Why the alternative scenario should ever hold for an inspired religion is not clear. Did God intend to communicate his message clearly but failed to do so? However, since this could still be the result of human influence, it would only be circumstantial, not conclusive, evidence in favor of a given religion's truth.
A religion whose followers have never committed or taken part in atrocities
If a given religion's sacred text consistently promotes peace, compassion and nonviolence, and if that religion's history reflects that fact, that religion would look much more attractive. Historically, almost every religion that has ever had the power to do so has persecuted those who believed differently, and I do not think it likely that a morally good deity would allow his chosen faith's good name to be smeared by evil and fallible humans.
The final category deals with things that would not convince me; none of the following would persuade me to rethink my position. To date, all the evidence I have ever seen presented for any religion falls into this category.
Speaking in tongues or other pseudo-miracles
To convince me, a miracle would have to be genuine, verifiable, and represent a real and inexplicable divergence from the ordinary. Anything that can be explained by peer pressure, the power of suggestion or the placebo effect does not count. Favorable coincidences or kind or courageous acts performed by human beings also do not meet this standard. (This post clearly illuminates the difference: "Biblical miracles aren't about accidents and people saying 'Whew that was close.' Biblical miracles are people raising their hands and telling something impossible to happen, and it happens.")
Seeing the Virgin Mary in a water stain or Mother Teresa in a piece of pastry is not impressive. And faith healing or people being "slain in the Spirit" and toppling over, owes more to showmanship and the placebo effect used on eager-to-please individuals that have been worked up into highly excitable suggestible states. Now, if faith healers could restore severed limbs that would be convincing.
People's conversion stories
I'm not interested in the testimonials of people who converted to a religion, not even if they used to be atheists. Everyone has moments of weakness in which emotion overrides logic. Instead of telling me how fast a religion is growing, how much of a difference it's made in people's lives, or how devoted its converts are, let those converts explain what logic and evidence persuaded them to join in the first place. If they can't do this, their stories will not affect me.
Any subjective experience
Saying "I know God exists because I can feel him in my heart" or something similar will not affect me. Most arguments of this sort rest on the assumption that a person cannot have a completely convincing subjective experience and be mistaken regarding its cause, but a look at the diversity of world religions easily disproves this. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists - members of all faiths claim to have had convincing subjective experiences of the truth of that faith. Obviously, they cannot all be right. Why should an atheist accept any one of these testimonies as more valid than any other?
The Bible Code or other numerological feats
Using the same algorithms employed by the Bible Code numerologists, skeptics have been able to find assassinations and other historical events "predicted" in Moby Dick, War and Peace and other works of fiction that don't claim divine inspiration, so don't expect it to impress me.
Creationism of any sort
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