Have you ever wanted a good, solid conversation starter?
A conversation starter that allowed you to bypass all of the uncomfortable small-talk and got you right into the meat of a discussion about deep stuff? Stuff so deep it’ll make your average fishing or workout buddy uncomfortable?
Easy! Just ask them “What would it take to get you to change your beliefs about God?”
Who cares about talking about the weather?! I want to talk about metaphysics and epistemology and how it relates to your understanding of God’s existence!
When a friend of mine first proposed the question, “What would it take to get me to change my belief about God?” I thought it would be a little too much fun to talk about it. After all, epistemology (the study of knowledge) and God are two of my favorite topics to discuss. However, the more I thought about it… and the more research I did… the more I realized that I’m not entirely sure what would cause me, personally, to change my belief about God.
In general, if someone believes something (lets call it X)… and a defeater is presented for X, there are two options. They either give up the belief, or provide a defeater for that defeater and maintain the belief. Well, I guess you could ignore the defeater, but let’s imagine there is no deliberate cognitive dissonance going on here.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with defeaters in epistemology, here’s an example:
I currently hold the belief that it is raining outside. I’ve formed this belief because I observed the last 4 people coming into the building soaking wet. Their wet clothes inspired my belief that it is raining outside. A possible defeater is presented to that belief when I look out the window and see clear skies.
At this point, I have two pieces of observational evidence pointing in two different directions. I have the wet clothes of the four people and the fact that the sky is clear.
How do I reconcile these two, seemingly contradictory beliefs?
I walk outside, of course.
And when I walk outside, I get drenched in water. I look up to see where the water came from, and I see a handful of punk middle-school kids with now-empty buckets on the roof.
My original belief was that it was raining outside; justified by the wet clothes of the four people entering the building. However, additional information provided defeaters for that belief, allowing the rain explanation to be rejected.
That being said, I’m not entirely sure what *would* change my mind about God, but providing a defeater for my current belief about God is what *should* cause me to change my belief about God.
I am a Christian. I believe in the God of the Bible and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I hold these beliefs because I’ve analyzed the evidence for and against Christianity, and found the evidence to be in Christianity’s favor.
I began my exploration into this topic when I was around 19 years old. After hearing some of the strange things Christians believed in an Intro to Philosophy class in college, I thought it would be fun to go onto the internet and anonymously mock these stupid Christians.
However… my anti-Christian attitudes didn’t last very long. I began to read the arguments for and against Christianity, and to make a very long story very short… I became a Christian.
I did not form my beliefs because of family tradition or any other non-rational process. Nothing really compelled me to embrace Christianity, other than the evidence itself. To be fair, I was raised in a home that went to church sometimes, but we were allowed to cut corners and only go to Sunday school. And that was great because Sunday school had snacks and the main service was long and boring. So I woke up on Sunday mornings, ran next door to the church, ate some snacks, ignored the message and ran back home to play video games, play football with my friends, and go skating.
The reasons that compelled me to embrace Christian theism are many. Here’s a list of some (not all) of the reasons I came to embrace Christianity:
- I believe the natural world has a cause, and that cause must have characteristics typically attributed to God
- I believe that a metaphysically necessary being is absolutely essential from all perspectives, and God is the only option that doesn’t come with insurmountable difficulties.
- I believe the fine-tuning of the universe is inadequately explained by chance processes or necessity and points to a cosmic fine-tuner.
- I believe that our inner moral convictions are best explained by the Christian perspective of being made in the image of God.
- I believe the historical evidence is in favor of the actual resurrection of Christ, with no special treatment given to the Biblical texts during historical analysis.
- I believe the Bible has attributes that point to it being a book that is not merely a book by men, but a book that has been divinely inspired, in one way or another. I don’t think we have to assume inerrancy to come to that conclusion.
- If God does not exist, then belief in God is the result of evolution. That belief is pervasive throughout human history, believed by nearly everyone. This entails that evolution is responsible for extreme error in our belief forming systems. This is not a point against evolution, but a point against naturalism when taken together with evolution.
- I believe naturalism entails a complete lack of free will. If we are nothing more than complex matter, it doesn’t seem possible that we can have free will. However, free will’s existence is obvious. And without the ability to make real choices, all of our beliefs are reduced to neurons firing, which makes any and all beliefs…unbelievable. Including naturalism itself.
- I also believe that my personal religious experience is best explained by the Christian worldview. I realize that appealing to personal experience is easily dismissed, but only when done in isolation. If Christianity is true, then my personal experiences line up perfectly with reality. If Christianity is not true, that would be a defeater to my personal experience.
- I have studied many of the other world religions, both formally and informally, and find them to be lacking in critical areas, from the question of man’s purpose to the question of man’s problem.
There are a handful of additional reasons why I believe that Christian theism offers the best explanation of the evidence, but I don’t want to sound like I’m “gish-galloping” or just being overly preachy.
I believe as I do because I believe Christian theism explains the world better than any other perspective.
However… the truth of Christianity ultimately hinges upon the resurrection of Christ. To quote Paul in his letter to the Corinthians:
“… if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom he did not raise.”
A little later Paul says,
“… if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.”
I think Paul has it exactly right. If Christ was not raised from the dead, then Christianity is not only false, but Christians are testifying incorrectly about God. However, if Christ was raised from the dead, then we can be reconciled to God in a way that is impossible without Christ.
This brings up another interesting point that I wanted to make.
If there were reasons to reject the idea that Christ was raised from the dead, I would still believe in God, for many of the reasons I listed earlier. It would just be a version of God that wasn’t revealed accurately through any holy text. I’d probably lean exclusively on natural theology, discouraged by the fact that the God who is so evident in nature hadn’t accurately revealed himself in any religious tradition.
Consider this a challenge to those who are reading, especially non-Christians. Examine the evidence for Christianity; don’t just repudiate or dismiss it. I firmly believe that the evidence will lead you to the conclusion that Christian theism is true. And if Christian theism is true, then we have the opportunity to be in a relationship with the creator of the universe, through Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection.
And that’s pretty awesome.
I’m not going to suggest that the case for Christian theism is totally rock-solid. There are some questions that I still have regarding Christianity. But these questions tend to deal with discussions within Christendom, not questions that would make or break Christianity as a whole.
So… what would cause me to change my mind about God? Well… I would imagine that my current beliefs would have to be dismantled, systematically.
And that’s not me being closed-minded or arrogant or anything, that’s just because my current beliefs about God are interwoven with each other, as well as some of them standing alone as independent reasons to be a Christian theist.
Based on my previous list, if it was definitively shown that Christ did not rise from the dead and that the Bible is unreliable as a historical document, that would cause me to go down a notch from Christianity to some vague form of theism. And if the “being made in the image of God” explanation failed as a way to explain moral epistemology, that would also push me away from Christian theism.
At this point, I would probably look into other religions. Although I can’t imagine that I would be satisfied with their explanations. After all, I did look into them already.
But I’d give them another chance, because rejecting Christianity and still maintaining a belief in God would probably push me there.
In order to go a little further, I would have to be shown that the natural world has a more reasonable cause than God, or that the universe doesn’t actually need a cause. Something would have to be presented as an alternative to God as a metaphysically necessary being. The fine-tuning of the universe would have to be shown as either a result of chance or necessity… or I’d have to embrace an a-priori, anti-teleological view of the world, as many naturalists seem to do.
If all of this was done, I would still not embrace a naturalistic perspective. I would have just rejected theism. I would probably be rather frustrated at the fact that both major metaphysical perspectives have horrible flaws, so I’d probably default to pure agnosticism.
Embracing naturalism would be yet another step in this systematic belief disintegration. Someone would have to offer a great answer to Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism…and I’d have to be shown that free-will is either an illusion, or be shown that naturalism can account for the freedom of the will. And I’d have to figure out a way for naturalism to avoid being totally self-defeating.
And there you have it. If you want to dismantle my current beliefs about God, that’s probably how it would be done.
Allow me to encourage you to examine your own belief… web. Examine the reasons you have to hold the beliefs that you do, and don’t be afraid to ask hard questions. Sure, things may get difficult from time to time, but don’t be scared. The truth is not scared of questions!
Thanks for reading.
If you have a comment or question, leave it in the comment section. And if you have something you’d like me to explore a little more on a subsequent Come Let Us Reason post, let me know!
Photo by Steven Kelley via Flickr