Monday, April 09, 2012

Talking with an Atheist: Reasons to Believe

Why do you believe what you believe?
How did you come to this those conclusions?
What reasons and/or evidence do you have that support these conclusions?

These are important questions that continually come up in my conversations with Favourite Atheist (FA). We talk about my belief in Jesus and his believe that the world is only natural.

I can't remember a time when I did not believe in God. My early beliefs were based on people I trusted teaching me about God and God answering my specific prayers. As I grew I had more experiences that strengthened my belief. These included more answered prayers, the lives of other Christians I respected, my own encounters with God which included a sense that God was calling me to be a missionary. I had questions and doubts. There are still times when I am confused, struggling or doubt. In this instances I pray, read (the Bible, books that agree with my position and even books that disagree) and I found no reason to not believe.

FA's follow up question to my reasons has been, "do you think this enough evidence for me to change my views?" Or the variation "if a Hindu gave you the same reasons to accept their faith would you change your mind?" Similar experiential evidence coming from a person of a different belief would not convince me to reject Jesus (which often feels like I'm failing my friend).

How do I better communicate my reasons for hope? That has been the question on my mind for months. About a year ago I asked FA what would change his mind. He shared this link with me The Theist's Guide to Converting Atheists. I wonder if there is something else that he hasn't yet considered that would convince him?

So questions to think about: What do you believe and why do you believe it? Do you think that your reasons should convince someone else, why or why not? And would similar evidence from another faith/view be enough for you to switch your views? If it's not then should your reasons be enough to convince someone else, why or why not? And what would type of evidence would cause you to change your mind about your beliefs?

Thank you for stopping by. I know that is a lot of questions. I'm interested in your thoughts. Please leave a comment answering any of the questions or adding your own thoughts to the conversation and return Friday for the conversation wrap up.


Anonymous said...

I am just a dad,
But if you have given the scriptures to the lad, it is God who will touch his heart. Scriptures have a power of their own, but belief is between the individual and God. I do understand prayer works mightly and that may be the next course of action. I do not believe that one scripture or a few scriptures together will turn the heart. Only God can do that.
You have opened the bible to the lad. It is time to move on.

Anonymous said...

I dunno, I see a real arrogance in the notion that we can or should try to convert people to our beliefs. The basic idea is that "I know better than you," which is a common notion throughout history, and always with disastrous results. In fact I don't even want to get into the history of Christian\Islamic conversion, too bloody and gross. Today, in 2012, is it acceptable to say one person's faith has more merit than another's? And more to the point of the question du jour, is it acceptable for one person with faith in something unproveable to try to convince others to abandon their skepticism and reason? Well, if we accept the premise that one of these humans is infallible, sure. Of course an infallible human is unlikely to be found. Jesus himself said "I am the way", not "Peter is the way" and CERTAINLY not "the pope is the way". Your previous commenter said only God can turn the hearts of people. It takes considerable hubris to believe humans are capable of doing God's job for him. Hubris, the bible tells us, is a sin. So is it not, then, a sin to attempt to convert people? Is this not "playing God"?

matthew said...

1. I would think a distinction should be made between some sort of high-pressure, guilt-ridden attempt to get someone to change their beliefs and a simple/humble sharing (through words and/or actions) of supposed truth. The 'disastrous results' apply to the former and not the latter.

2. The idea that nobody's faith has any more merit than that of another is akin to saying that nobody's faith really has any 'merit' at all (which is probably your position). I think it's rather absurd for 2 reasons.

a) Suppose all religions are man made attempts to understand god. To say that all such attempts are of equal value is crazy unless there is no god(s) at all, in which case they all have zero value. But if there is a god(s) then obviously different understandings would be closer and further from the truth from one another.

b) Of course, we also must leave room for the possibility that God has not been content to let people try to understand [him] independently and has, instead, chosen to reveal [him]self someway. Christians believe that's what Jesus is, a revelation of God. Obviously God's autobiography would be of more value than our attempts at biography for God.

Of course, I'm not saying you HAVE to believe in God. But you do have to let each person's worldview stand on its own 2 feet. In a presupposed atheistic worldview, you are right that all faiths are of equal (zero) value. But in a presupposed theist worldview, each perspective is a different degree of correct.

The rest of your comment contains 2 unnecessary contrasts:

1. You contrast 'faith in something unprovable' with 'skepticism and reason' as if the person would have to abandon the latter to embrace the former. That's weird. I'm someone who is very skeptical and use reason all the time, but I still pursue and embrace faith while admitting that it can't be 'proven' in the rigid definition of that term.

2. You contrast God turning a heart with people attempting to do the same. But this assumes a non-incarnational god. An incarnational god may very well (and, in fact, would prefer) to involve people in his plans and purposes.

So the problem is not really found in people sharing their views and perspective with another person (that's healthy exchange!). The problem is with people doing so in a way that is arrogant and sinful.

FA said...

Re: 1
Do you find the scriptures and holy books of other faith traditions to be powerful/inspiring/convincing? I have had people tell me similar things re: the Koran, the Bible and the Book of Mormon regarding its power to change folk etc. How should one decide between competing claims?

Re: 2
You demonstrably believe that it is acceptable to try and change the beliefs of others. Indeed, you are making an attempt to do that in your very post by trying to convince people to change their beliefs on whether it is acceptable to try to change the beliefs of others. If persuading someone to change her mind is arrogant, you might want to look at the plank in your eye before you go plucking specks from other people’s ;)

“I know better than you” is not a bad thing if one of the parties is making a gross error. If I see that you are walking towards danger, trying to convince you of that fact need not be arrogance. Instead, it is probably motivated by concern for your well-being. E.g. “Yo bro, don’t keep walkin that way. There’s a minefield. It’s bad news bears. I saw billy blown up last fall by making a bad step.” Correcting mistakes/ misunderstandings requires neither force nor omniscience.

It would be exceedingly strange if, in the Christian tradition, trying to convert people was a sin, given the great commission. Likewise, it makes Acts an even weirder book to read than it already is :p