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Atheists, what would it take for you to change your mind?

On a few occasions I’ve heard people ask an interesting question of atheists; "what would it take for you to change your mind?" From my experience, how they answer is entirely dependent upon the person. I’ve spoken to many atheists where I presented the main arguments for belief in God, both in person and online. I find that online people basically never admit they’ve changed their minds. They have no reason to be civil, so their own pride can run wild with absolutely no immediate consequences, and this results in the “angry atheist”, where they endlessly insult strangers on the internet. In real life, however, while I do still encounter people that act like that, the odds go up quite a bit that the person will realize social consequences, and choose to act like a decent human, which will involve the possibility that they have to reconsider their position. In these sorts of situations, I do actually see some change in their positions at times.

 

As an example, years ago I talked with a young man doing his graduate studies. He started out with the typical atheist response, “there’s no reason to believe in any god.” So, I went through the teleological argument with him, using the evidence from cosmological laws, abiogenesis, and irreducible complexity, to show that there are very obvious cases of design in the universe, to the point that many atheists, even well known and respected ones, have admitted that the universe does have the appearance of design. We had a really good conversation about it, and he admitted that he has thought about this, and that it does seem like there is “something” out there, and it “could” be something like God. We then went through the resurrection argument, using the minimal facts approach (if you’re interested, here’s an episode of my podcast where I go into this point). He admitted that he had never really heard a well constructed argument for Christianity before, and said that he might just have to go back to church with his mom when he visits home again. In this experience, even though it was only slightly, I definitely did see him change his mind, simply because of the evidence.

 

In other conversations I’ve had, I’ve asked them why they left their faith, and embraced atheism. One person I talked to simply stated, “it just makes sense”. I asked him to elaborate, and give me his reasons and rationale, and he couldn’t manage to say anything other than “it just makes sense”. I imagine this is because he knew it was literally my job to discuss these matters, and he knew the same thing I know, which is that the arguments and evidence are incredibly in the theist’s favour, and even in favour of Christianity. However, he was unwilling to even think about the possibility. I’ve had quite a few encounters where the atheist will be belligerent, insulting, and make really strong claims about there being NO argument for theism AT ALL, and once I point out arguments they just say, “yeah well those don’t work!” I ask them to show me “how” exactly they don’t work, and they can’t. This is a fallacy called “moving the goalposts”, where the person is given reason and evidence, and instead of handling it rationally, and coming up with counters, they instead shrug it off and demand more.

 

In many of these sorts of negative discussions I’ve had with atheists, they seem unwilling to even consider the arguments in favour of God, and it ends up looking like a serious case of another fallacy called “confirmation bias”.

Confirmation Bias: When the person is so entrenched in their position, that no matter what evidence you present, they will not consider the possibility that they could be wrong. They will only accept things that confirm their existing bias.

I’ve even had atheists explicitly tell me this. I can recall one situation where I asked an atheist the exact question this blog is about, “what sort of evidence would cause you to change your mind?” Their response was that no evidence could even potentially change their mind.  They considered belief in God to be so incredibly silly, that even if God Himself showed up in front of them, they would assume it was some sort of deception. This is an obvious, and even self-admitted case of another fallacy called “confirmation bias”. This is when a person will not consider any arguments or pieces of evidence that contradict what they already believe.

 

As an example of this kind of fallacious confirmation bias, we can turn to Richard Dawkins. In 2008, Dawkins was interviewed by Ben Stein. This interview made many atheists angry, because they felt as though Dawkins was misrepresented. I can actually partially understand their position here, but the whole issue distracted from what was ultimately happening, which was far more interesting. In the interview, Stein is asking Dawkins about abiogenesis, which is the idea that life came about, without intent, from non-living matter. Dawkins is adamant that this is how life emerged, but that he doesn’t know how, and that no one else knows how either. Already, that looks like a serious case of bias, but it gets worse. Stein then asks him about the possibility that “maybe” some kind of intelligence designed life, and that’s why it looks designed. How did Dawkins respond to this possible scenario? He was willing to admit that it is “possible” life was designed, but only if aliens were the designers. Ignoring the fact that this just pushes the scenario back a step, and we’re left with the obvious question “who designed the aliens?”, the important thing is to see just how biased he is. Dawkins was more willing to accept aliens as an explanation for the evidence, before he would even consider the possibility of God. That kind of dogmatic bias shows an attitude where the person is unwilling to consider that they might be wrong.

 

While I have had many negative conversations with atheists where the conversation isn’t too interesting, there are the rare moments when they actually know their stuff, and can respond with decent counters. However, once I respond to the counters (because I already know most of the counters, and have looked into them), then they typically resort back to the “that doesn’t work!” without actually saying “how” it doesn’t work. I’ve tried, many times, to point out that asserting your opinion does not constitute an argument, but it often falls of deaf ears.

 

So, coming back to our original question, what would cause atheists to change their mind? Ultimately, I think it comes back to the heart of the person. If they’re genuinely seeking, the conversation should be an open and honest discussion about the evidences. When this happens, I do in fact see some change in the atheists’ perspective! However, most people aren’t genuinely seeking, and aren’t actually interested in rational debate about the evidence, so it becomes entirely a battle of honour and pride for them, where their only goal is to save face. In these situations, there is usually zero possibility of them changing their mind (in the moment at least). That said, people think about things, even if they don’t show it, and I’ve had times where I thought the conversation was absolutely pointless, but the person ended up coming to me later, and they had changed their mind somewhat. So, if the person is willing, yes, atheists can change their mind. Even if it feels like the atheist you’re talking to isn’t willing to consider altering their views, and even if you never personally see the results of these conversations, rest assured that there are moments where these sorts of discussions are the turning point in their life. These debates might seem pointless at times, but even if you don’t personally see it, this can be the moment the other person starts heading into the right direction, to a relationship with God.


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