I must admit, fundamentally misguided though they might be, most of the Christians with whom I interact on this website (and more broadly in life) are pleasant people who genuinely believe the doctrines they preach. Even though individuals such as Pat Robertson—a loathsome creature if ever one existed—seem to dominate media coverage of Christian activism, my recent interlocutors have been hesitant to introduce the “fire and brimstone” rhetoric that alienates freethinkers and obliterates dialogue. I appreciate their open-mindedness and respect their deeply held convictions, however erroneous I believe those convictions to be. Nevertheless, a more antagonistic species of Christian does occasionally crawl about this site. These individuals accuse me of atheistic dogmatism—of being unwilling to consider any evidence that is contrary to my current viewpoint. These accusations are hurled despite the clear articulation of my single germane presupposition: I presuppose the centrality of evidence in the discovery of truth. And that is my only relevant presupposition. I presuppose neither a godless cosmos nor materialism nor naturalism nor ultimate meaninglessness. Rather, my atheism springs from every religion’s lack of evidence. If any religion boasted a good deal of evidence, I most likely would accept its veracity. In short, my atheism is neither dogmatic nor presuppositional because I could change my mind, given the right evidence. The question, then, is simple: What is “the right evidence”? To answer this, I shall begin with three things that could have happened (but did not), and then toss in several more that still might.
First, the Bible could have contained some brand new information about the natural order. I have harped on this before, primarily because I think The Argument from Mundanity is one of the strongest weapons in an atheist’s arsenal. After all, Christians claim that the creator of the universe directly inspired the Bible’s very words. Forget about Einstein and Hemingway; forget about Joyce and Sagan—this is the creator of the universe here. And yet, despite god’s omniscient authorship, the Bible wallows in pre-scientific primitivism and yawn-inducing mundanity. As Sam Harris observed, “[The Bible] does not contain a single sentence that could not have been written by a man or woman living in the first century.” There is nothing about the actual age or size of the universe. There is nothing about the germ theory of disease. Earth’s vast geography is shrunk down to claustrophobically local levels. It is not even clear from the Bible whether the creator of the universe is aware of
Second, worship of Yahweh as the singular creator deity could have arisen independently in numerous geographically isolated areas. Any delusional belief system, if designed cleverly enough, has the potential to “catch fire,” as it were, and spread pervasively throughout our species. Much less likely, however, would be for the same delusional belief system to arise independently in many different places. Imagine if, around 2000 BCE, worship of Yahweh had arisen, nearly simultaneously, in the Middle East,
Third, archaeological evidence could have substantiated the biblical narrative, but it does not. Because Christopher Hitchens’ scholarship and eloquence exceed my own, I simply shall quote him: “…much more extensive and objective work was undertaken, presented most notably by Israel Finkelstein of the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University, and his colleague Neil Asher Silberman. These men regard the ‘Hebrew Bible’ or Pentateuch as beautiful, and the story of modern
In the absence of the aforementioned evidence, what evidence, even now, might be sufficient? Yahweh, in an instant, could carve his name onto the Moon. Or, on a lark, god could rearrange the planets in our solar system. Presumably, given his omnipotence, god capriciously could swap Earth and Pluto yet still keep the solar system stable and Earth’s creatures alive. Or, perhaps everybody could wake up one morning and suddenly find themselves on the surface of Mars, with a gaseous formation overhead spelling out, “Yahweh did it.”
Perhaps god could endow some ministers with the ability to raise the dead. My metaphysical naturalism certainly would be shaken if I witnessed a preacher resurrect a corpse that, prior to resurrection, had been chopped into 16 pieces and burnt beyond recognition. That would be something. It also would be notable if, when people declared, “I am telling the truth, or let god strike me dead,” god obliged, zapping the liars. Metaphysical naturalists would have a difficult time explaining that one.
Let us also consider prayer as we weigh what good evidence would be. If prayer resulted in amputees’ missing limbs growing back, it would be hard to dispute prayer’s efficacy. As things stand, when people indulge in the folly of prayer, they almost always pray for things that might happen anyway. A husband prays that his wife gets that lucrative job. A mother prays that her son, who is trapped in a mine, gets out safely. Parents-to-be pray that they have a healthy son. Grandchildren pray that their grandmother beats her cancer. By contrast, few widows pray that their dead husbands reanimate and come back home. Even though god is supposed to be omnipotent, people have the good sense not to pray for things that are impossible; after all, the illusion of prayer’s usefulness must be maintained. And that is why amputees do not pray for limbs to grow back. It is also why, if they did pray, and their limbs did re-grow, there would be evidence value.
If there is one thing of which I am certain, it is that, if god existed, the deity’s presence would be apparent—just as the sun is apparent; just as trees are apparent; just as insects are apparent. Nobody can disbelieve legitimately in the sun, trees or insects; they are apparent and their existence inarguable. The Christian god is much another matter. [Ignore silly claims that god’s obvious existence would create “Christian robots”; some individuals, myself included, never would worship the Old Testament’s blood-drenched ogre. Also, forget this piffle about discovering god in your heart through pious contemplation. Humbug.]
Walk onto the streets one day, perhaps during your lunch hour, and bellow the following skyward: “God! Prithee, show yourself to me! As your humble servant, I beg you: Please make yourself known!” I predict that, other than chuckles from amused onlookers, the silence shall be deafening. Make a show of it…if only to convince atheists such as me. If god existed, his existence would be apparent.
Wander your streets…your alleys. Now, as ever, god is nowhere to be found.