Lest our discussion on free will turn to bickering, I believe it best to address a motif in many of Ken Ueda's writings regarding the inconvertibility of Christians. That is, Christians often say that neither human reason nor experience can persuade them that atheism is true and Christianity is false. This, I believe, was one of the reasons Ueda started his "Ask an atheist" column and is perhaps a frequent frustration of atheists everywhere. I want to answer this frustration, and in a later article look at Ueda's stated reasons for why an atheist might convert to Christianity. In the end, it seems both sides tend to ignore significant arguments and evidence, though for different reasons.

For me to intellectually embrace atheism two things would have to occur: first, a denial of Christianity and second, a conviction that atheism is preferable to agnosticism, universal Unitarianism or a non-theistic religious system like Zen Buddhism.

There exists one insurmountable barrier in the first step, namely the undeniable evidence of the existence of Christ. Historically, denying the existence of Christ would be like denying the existence of Julius Caesar. Not even opponents of the early church did so. But more important than Jesus' existence is his resurrection.

As Thomas Arnold, appointed chair of modern history at Oxford University, after himself sifting through historical evidence said, "Thousands and tens of thousands of persons have gone through it piece by piece . . . I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God hath given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead."

Jesus was seen by over 500 people and at 15 different recorded times after His resurrection. If Christ did not rise from the dead, no foundation for Christianity would exist. Yet, if it is true, any other issue like the origins of life or the existence of evil is a matter of mystery and faith. Searching, questioning and reasoning are important and legitimate for Christians, yet accepting mystery is also necessary. Thus, such arguments are peripheral if Christ actually was raised from the dead.

It would not be sufficient to convince me that religion is harmful to society. I, like Aquinas, believe that if Christianity is true, it ought to be followed by virtue of truth and not pragmatism. If we were be like Nietzsche, we would face the outcome of the truth regardless of its consequences (he went insane, if you recall).

Nor would it be sufficient to deride Christians as backward or stupid. I think Leibniz, Locke, Descartes, Milton, Donne, Pascal, Flannery O'Conner, Kierkegaard, Tolstoy, Aquinas, Augustine, Rousseau, Lewis, Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, Max Planck, Lord Kelvin, Mendel, T.S. Eliot and Pasteur would likely disagree. They could all be mistaken about the veracity of Christianity, but to say they are unintelligent would demonstrate ignorance.

Let us assume at some point you provide me with irrefutable evidence that Jesus wasn't the Son of God. Then the burden would lie on you to convince me of the truth of atheism over other alternatives. I would like to know how I can reasonably doubt the supernatural. Some atheists are fond of disproving God to disproving fictional or fairy tale figures like Bigfoot or Santa Claus - I, being a discerning fellow, would label that a fallacious analogy as the weight of evidence for supernatural miracles, texts, design and experience is not even comparable to fairy tales. I would thus ask to be shown how one could prove by preponderance of the evidence that the supernatural did not exist or at least did so to a negligible degree (if that is even possible).

This proof should involve an explanation of why nearly all of human history is filled with spirituality, why humans long for significance and meaning and why there exists, in many, a sense of eternity. Where does this preoccupation come from? Freud's explanation in Civilization and Its Discontents was that humans naturally experience a false "sensation of eternity," and religion has come to accommodate it. Yet, if nothing supernatural exists, how is it that we came to invent it? Just as we can't imagine a "new" color entirely different from the ones we can see, it would be impossible to manufacture the supernatural if it did not have at least some grounding in reality.

Additionally, I would have to believe that the worldview I was adopting by means of logical persuasion did not undermine human reason. I would have to understand how atheism can claim to be true while simultaneously eliminating any potential source of objective and universal truth, as well as how my randomly constructed, partially evolved mind is capable of reliable reason. How could I be logically convinced by an explanation that lacks a basis for trusting logic?

Those are my questions. Whether or not this list is conclusive, can be applied to theism generally, or is even true for all Christians I am unsure. I do, however, think an understanding of the burden of proof for both sides is necessary and perhaps in the future the discussion will turn to miracles, answered prayer, fulfilled prophesy and scientific manifestations in scripture.

By Nick Elledge

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