How to persuade an atheist to become Christian? (It’ll never happen.) A rational look at belief versus knowledge.

Somebody shared this absurd WikiHow article to one of the Facebook groups I’m in…

JesusIsBullshit

The wiki is hilarious for all the wrong reasons and I recommend it to all atheists who have the patience to read so much nonsense. I’m not going to address every point from that wiki. Instead I’ll use it as a starting point for this short argumentative essay about belief.

The wiki goes off the rails right at the beginning when it recommends that you “put yourself in your friend’s shoes”. Later it reads Try to understand their key disbelief. But you can’t. If you truly understood the atheist point of view, you would also be an atheist.

The writer assumes not only the existence of God, and that following Jesus is the only path, but also makes some assumptions about your choice to be an atheist. The reasons proposed in the suggestion of understanding why your friend is an atheist are simplistic and none of them, of course, is that you chose atheism because there isn’t any evidence for any god. That’s right, I said any god. There is neither evidence for any of the thousands of gods that humankind have worshipped, nor is there any reason that the Christian god(s) should be held in any higher regard than any others.

What is belief, and why does it apply to theism but not atheism?

I am truly sick of the accusation that atheism is also a belief, that my choice not to believe in any god is equivalent to a belief system or an ideology. I’ve read many arguments where theists try to be rational or logical, and although they think they are, they never quite succeed. At it’s core, the problem seems to be that people do not know the difference between belief and knowledge.

To make an example, I know that the sky looks blue. I know that on a sunny day, when I get out of bed and open the curtains, and look up at the sky, it is blue. I know this even at night – that the following morning, the sky will be blue just like it was yesterday. I also know that water is wet. These things are obvious to me, and even though I had to learn them as a child, once learned they became knowledge.

In much the same way, a Christian knows that God exists. It is obvious to such a person that God exists, and that his son Jesus died for their sins. They know this because they learned it as a young child, and subsequently it was reinforced right until their adulthood, then further reinforced by others who were taught the same thing, as well as thousands of figures of speech and parts of modern culture that emphasize this “truth”.

Do you see where this is going? A Christian knows that God exists just as I know that the sky is blue. Except they have never seen God, or any evidence of God. Nobody has, although we are expected to accept without question that people did see God thousands of years ago. They think that they know God exists, but this is something that can not be known. This is belief, not knowledge. After you believe something for long enough, it seems obvious that it is true. In reality, whether or not any god exists can’t be known one way or the other, but what is known is that nobody has ever seen God, and that every religion was created by man; every holy book was written by man and passed down for generations. Understanding this is the key to understanding atheism. I don’t believe that there is no god, but I do recognize that all gods ever worshipped were created by man, and that there is no evidence for any god. Thus I don’t believe in any god because disbelief is the only logical choice.

It didn’t take any great catastrophe or personal crisis for me to reject my Roman Catholic upbringing. I always had my doubts but thought I was alone. Then one day when I was sixteen years old and an atheist scoffed at the idea of theism, I knew immediately that they were right. (OK, I exaggerate. But once I knew that my doubts were not isolated, it took less than thirty seconds for me to reject my religious indoctrination.) I kept up the pretence of being a Christian for a while, but knew right away that religion was a waste of time. There is no way that any person will ever convince me that any god exists. The only thing that would convince me is if God showed up himself, and that’s never going to happen.

It would be a mistake for me to say that there obviously is no god and that all theists are stupid. I’d be making the same mistake they make by assuming that what is obvious to me should also be obvious to them, and that anybody who doesn’t see this is stupid. I’d be falling into the same trap of confusing belief with knowledge. (In some Facebook groups that I belong to, I’ve witnessed other atheists call theists stupid all the time, and I take the time to point out their error where I can. Nothing defeats your cause more than a poor argument. Calling people stupid merely because what’s obvious to you isn’t obvious to them is as poor an argument as one gets. It lowers you to their level and makes the argument that atheism is a belief true, because you are arguing from your own belief rather than logic or reason. Of course there are stupid theists, but there are probably just as many stupid atheists. Idiots are everywhere.) Returning to the point of confusing belief and knowledge from before the parenthesis… However, this is a bit of a false equivalence, isn’t it? God himself is a man-made concept, an invention to explain the unexplainable. It shouldn’t even be worth discussing, except so many people believe in it.

That’s all that God really is when you think about it: an explanation for everything that can not be understood by inventing a creator that also can’t be understood. Then they make a straw man of atheism by claiming it insists everything was created from nothing, although theism is guilty of just that… This God, for which there is no evidence, created everything from nothing with but a wave of the hand. And every argument for this god, such as the argument from first cause, tries to come up with a reason to assume the existence of God without question.

Their arguments try to avoid the question of where this god came from completely, and when I’ve asked it, the response has been mixed; sometimes ad hominem (Sticks and stones baby, but taunting me doesn’t answer the question), sometimes anger, sometimes an attempt to divert my attention elsewhere, once even the ludicrous claim that God’s existence is “a posteriori argument”, but never a straight answer. Because there is no answer. When you invent a god to explain everything, you think god is the answer. Either you must realize that this gets you nowhere further than the atheist, who says “I don’t know where we came from” because you don’t have an explanation of where your made-up god came from, or you must realize that you believe in God because you believe in “God’s Word” or something similar… In other words you believe in God because you believe in God – a circle. The logic is missing from every such argument because one has to start with the assumption that god exists, then ignore all evidence to the contrary while latching onto anything that supports it. They are all guilty of circular reasoning, and are all arguments from ignorance.

For those who don’t know what an argument from ignorance is, it is the argument that something must be true simply because it can’t be proven false. This is the crux of the argument for God. Nobody can prove God doesn’t exist, therefore He does. (Hopefully I don’t have to explain how illogical that argument is.)

The fact is, the unshakeable faith of the person who wrote that Christian wiki could have been just as unshakeable, but in some other god, if they happened to be born into a different culture or geological area where some other religion is more popular. Isn’t it funny how the religion of everybody’s parents is always the “true” one? That person’s faith in the Bible could have been faith in the Torah, or the Book of Mormon, or the Qur’an, or the Vedas, or any other religion if they had been indoctrinated into a different religion. And they would then have known that some other god is the true god just as I know the sky is blue. But the reality is, the sky is blue, and all your gods are fiction.

Conclusion

The purpose of that wiki may not be quite what it seems. The method presented, which comes down to telling the atheist about your personal relationship with Jesus and your fellowship with other Christians, will not work on any atheist I know. It especially won’t go down too well when the atheist points out that believing in Jesus is no different to believing in any of the other deities that humankind have worshipped in the last few thousand years, and that one can feel a sense of fellowship and community in any group. (No belief in any gods required.) The wiki seems to be more about making happy clappies feel good about themselves, not about converting atheists.

In my first paragraph under the “What is belief…” heading, I stated that the argument for theism is not logical. My reason for this should be clear: An argument that starts with the assumption that God exists even though there is no evidence to support this assumption, and looks for excuses for that assumption not to be questioned, as stated by, for example the argument from first cause, is not logical. It is the antithesis of logic. If you make such an argument, you should not pretend to be logical. It also doesn’t make sense to fabricate your own distorted science, as done by creationists, to argue against reason. The position of theism is one based on belief in the assumption or the presupposition that God exists despite no evidence to support this position. Belief after years of indoctrination results in the mistaken idea that the believer knows the belief to be true, which is thus an illusion of knowledge.

I knew the difference between belief and knowledge back when I was sixteen years old. My Religious Instruction teacher in my last year of high school knew it too. When he asked the class to write questions anonymously on small pieces of paper so that he could answer them, he was stumped by my question. (What’s the difference between your belief in God and a child’s belief in Santa Claus?) His answer came down to “It’s a question of faith”. I used to think that all theists understood this, but lately I have realized that they often do not. You should not assume that an atheist lacks knowledge of your religion and that they just need to hear the good news. Chances are that they know your religion better than you do. That’s why they’re atheists.

Advertisements

About Jerome

I am a senior C# developer in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am also a recovering addict, who spent nearly eight years using methamphetamine. I write on my recovery blog about my lessons learned and sometimes give advice to others who have made similar mistakes, often from my viewpoint as an atheist, and I also write some C# programming articles on my programming blog.
This entry was posted in Skepticism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to How to persuade an atheist to become Christian? (It’ll never happen.) A rational look at belief versus knowledge.

  1. dfxc says:

    Your Rel. teacher did have it right–and it’s the same basis from which logical theology begins. That is, IF you start with God as an axiomatic principle, THEN… [insert Aquinas here]. Which would be why Anselm called theology “Faith seeking understanding” and not vice versa–because it doesn’t work that way.
    The author of the ‘article’ is beginning with a seriously flawed goal, because any belief you can be persuaded into having is one you can be persuaded to lose–and made subject to the court of reason, as many philosophers and theologians have noted, the case for God is a loser.
    Would that God might save us from His poor apologists…

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s