General Question

mozartpena's avatar

How do you convince an atheist that there is a God?

Asked by mozartpena (81 points ) August 28th, 2008

well my sister’s philosophy professor seems to be teaching them philosophy that leads to the conclusion that there is no god. and my sister being very studious is starting to believe (pun, hehehe) it.

i want to write a letter to that professor. all i can say now is…all of this cannot just happened by pure accident

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70 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

Bonk them on the head! I’m serious! Well, a little. Some people, after they are brain damaged, start to experience strange phenomena that might lead them to conclude they are experiencing a god.

The other thing you could do is show them reproducible evidence of the god. Of course, you’d have to carefully define what you mean by god, first.

jlm11f's avatar

You don’t try to convince an atheist against their beliefs, just like an atheist shouldn’t try to convince religious people that there is no God. If your sister is changing her views due to said class, you cannot prevent this. You need to trust your sister to be able to make decisions for herself in such matters. If she is old enough to take a Philosophy class, she is old enough to make her own religious choices. Stay out of it and tell her whatever she decides, you’ll love her anyway. And who knows…this class might just stimulate her brain to understand the “other side’s” opinion and by making her more open minded, she will be able to make a better, more educated decision.

flameboi's avatar

My best friend (I love him dearly he is a great person) is an atheist, his family tried to convince him, eventuially he left his home, I think you just can’t “convince” a person, people’s beliefs are not under discussion, you are supposed to be there and support the person in good and bad times, whatever their beliefs are…

Les's avatar

Yep, I’m going to have to second PnL’s response. The professor is entitled to his/her beliefs, and seeing as it sounds like a college course, your sister is old enough to make her own decisions of what she wants to believe. If the things he is saying makes sense to her, then honor her choices, and respect her for what she wants to believe.
Philosophy is an interesting subject, and many professors try to take the “there is no God” approach, because going the other way clouds your mind from rationalizing on a purely humanistic front. This professor is probably just trying to get his students to think for themselves. I had a philosophy course, where some of the students always answered “Because God says so.” In philosophy (and this was a moral issues course), it is important to be able to distinguish what you believe to be right because “God says so” and what you believe to be right because it is moral.

wundayatta's avatar

@pnl, @les: While I think the hands-off approach is ideal, I don’t see it as realistic. Many people believe that the issue of belief or not-belief is actually a life-threatening issue. Some religions suggest that without belief, a person will be damned forever, and that damning is a horrible thing. Others might suggest that religious beliefs are what got this world into the trouble it’s in, and if we don’t get rid of them, we’ll all die.

So, depending on what you think, it can seem a matter of life and death, and therefore worth trying to convince someone not to take the wrong approach, whatever you think that is.

richardhenry's avatar

You don’t. In the same way that I won’t try to convince you that there isn’t a God.

Harp's avatar

If this professor is worth anything, he/she will have already looked at whatever arguments both theists and atheists bring to the cosmological debate. Whatever your personal convictions may be, I would suggest that you begin by familiarizing yourself with some of the thinking that’s already been done on the matter, because a great deal of thought by some of mankind’s greatest minds has been devoted to the subject, and if you’re going to try to convince this professor of the rightness of your point of view, then he’ll want to see that you’re bringing something to the table that he might not already have considered.

For starters, take a look at shrubbery’s fantastic summation of the terms of the debate here

Spargett's avatar

The usual smoke and mirrors. Most find threats and fears works best.

jlm11f's avatar

daloon – i disagree. i have been on both sides of the argument, and i have never perceived it as a life/death notion. I know that religions do say that those who don’t believe will be damned but since these people don’t believe in general, they wouldn’t give a fuck about someone else thinking that they are going to be damned or go to “hell”. Sure, the religious person might want their relative/friend etc to believe so they don’t go to hell, but that’s just something they will have to learn to live with.

Les's avatar

@daloon: Fine, whatever. But what I still don’t get it why people are so concerned that someone else will be damned forever. As long as you (not you, daloon, but ‘you’ generally) are the “great God fearing” whatever religion you claim to be, who cares if Joe Schmoe is going to go to hell?

Judi's avatar

As a Christian, I get embarrassed by other Christians who think that it’s their job to change another persons heart. I really think it’s rather arrogant. My job is to show up and be Christ like. We are to be good friends, help the helpless, defend the defenseless, comfort the hurting, heal the sick, and help carry the burdens of the weary. Not quite as glamorous as “saving souls for Jesus” sounds like it should be, but this is my job. Any heart changing is the job of the Holy Spirit. If that happens, I don’t get credit for it. My only job is to show up. It’s not my responsibility or my right to change a heart. To even try would be disrespectful of the person I was trying to “convert” and would be stealing credit that belongs to God alone.

wundayatta's avatar

@pnl: I hope you don’t think I was saying you thought it was a life and death issue. I’m just saying that some people think of it that way, and so they will try to change people’s minds.

@les: I’m not the one to explain that to you, since I find the notion of hell to be rather quaint and fanciful. Dante did a good job of dramatizing it, but I think there’s room for improvement on all the visions of hell. Artistically speaking, of course.

Les's avatar

@daloon: It’s like they say: I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. :-)
Quaint and fanciful. This is the best description of hell I have heard. Cheers.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

You don’t. If God wants to convince the atheist, or anyone else, of His existence, He’s got lots of ways to do it.

Without doubt, there can be no faith.

gailcalled's avatar

I have spent my adult life (a long one) struggling with a belief system. When someone comes knocking on my door, uninvited, to proselytize, I cower in a closet.

flameboi's avatar

@Gail
I do that too!

seVen's avatar

Get them a book by Brian ‘Head’ Welch from KoRn titled ” Save me from myself ”

loser's avatar

Don’t even go there! You just have to accept the fact that this is something that you can’t do.

jholler's avatar

show him a platypus. That thing COULDN’T have happened by accident.

loser's avatar

I think it was leftover parts, personally.

richardhenry's avatar

@loser: I always thought so too.

lapilofu's avatar

“Remember: even God has a sense of humor. Just look at the Platypus.”

susanc's avatar

I can’t get over how great-hearted and fair-minded the answer given by Judi was.
I will re-read it from time to time and maybe pin it up to my door for next time the
Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons come by. I know it would give them satisfaction,
and then they could move on to a household that needed them more than I do.

shadling21's avatar

Go Judi! As an atheist and secularist, I cringe at the thought of people trying to convert me. A friendly debate once in a while is excellent exercise, but when the other party is looking to change my spiritual beliefs, I tend to shut them out. Converting an old prof won’t work either. Mainly, show your sister your concern and be there for her when she has questions.

Great question.

thegodfather's avatar

@susanc

I’m a Mormon who totally agrees with you on that point. I was a missionary in South America who told other fellow missionaries that going door to door wasn’t missionary work, and it was an uphill battle because of some very old and staunch religious traditions. I can say that you ought to be treated fairly if you say to Mormon elders that you’re not at all interested; they should wish you well and be on their way. But you’re absolutely right… The Christian message is one of proclamation, not one of converting. And I believe most Christians recognize the incongruity of saying one person converts or convinces another and the Biblical teachings of how the Holy Spirit works. God is the one who brings about conversion, not me or any other fallible, fallen man. So why attempt to force someone to accept your beliefs?

We’re in this because as human beings we have a capacity to love others not seen anywhere else in our known universe. People helping people is probably the most powerful thing out there. And yet we waste so much time trying to tell one another who’s right and who’s not. Judi’s comment hits the nail on the head.

“A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another as I have loved you.” In other words, the original Mosaic law of loving one another as oneself was replaced by Christ. He showed us the way to love and that was first and foremost his message and proclamation to the world. It should be ours, meaning any Christian, and I would hope every human being, as well. And if an atheist chooses atheism, how does that change the fact that my motives are to love him/her? Only if those aren’t my motives in the first place.

PupnTaco's avatar

Short answer: you don’t. Why would you try?

timothykinney's avatar

Categorically a waste of time.

VoodooLogic's avatar

I mock their beliefs (belief without proof being irrational – and they do have irrational beliefs) as a foundation for relabeling their atheism into something more appropriate, like agnosticism. Then get them to accept prayer as a practice in humility with positive results and, while irrational, is fundamentally healthy. Do not discuss miracles.

That’s a start.

shadling21's avatar

@Voodoo – Positive results? Says who? I’ll concede that it’s always a positive thing to reflect on life and its mysteries and to genuinely wish the best for each other, but wouldn’t it be more productive to actually DO good rather than PRAY for good?

VoodooLogic's avatar

@shadling teaching someone to pray is an explanation of humility. I do not wish to comment on what is appropriate to say to God.

shadling21's avatar

Humility, says the person who mocks the beliefs of atheists? or, technically, the lack thereof

I’m not trying to pick a fight… I’d just like to hear more of your opinions. If you don’t wish to comment, I suppose I’ll leave it at that.

VoodooLogic's avatar

LOL, ~ word. I have an atheist roommate and we’ve had dubious discussions over this topic. Neither one of us budge. Instead, we find the lines in the sand where we stand opposite. There is not “proof”, there never will be…

So, I will say that convincing an atheist to believe in God is putting your own immortal soul under scrutiny. Push and be prepared to be pushed back.

shadling21's avatar

Gotcha. I always feel pretty raw after a religious debate. And usually everyone ends up talking in circles. So, no. Mozartpena probably won’t convince that prof that there is a God. Because really, everyone’s just guessing…

VoodooLogic's avatar

…and you can’t draw people w/out a bit of mocking.

regarding circles: the whole I <3 Hukcabees ‘blanket’ analogy is the worst f*cking way to back out a debate. Well, I guess threatening violence is the worst, but you get my gripe.

It’s like, at least quote Buddha, ‘all rivers flow into the ocean..’ much more poetic.

wundayatta's avatar

Why do you debate this?

VoodooLogic's avatar

To sharpen your skills, strengthen your faith, or confirm your lack thereof. I’d hate to wind up an ignorant Christian. Those are the people I’d like to backhand. Always touting their faith when it’s the least hostile, never acting like Judi professes (comment above).

shadling21's avatar

Wait… I’M backing out? You’re the one who said you weren’t going to comment on certain things. I thought you’d put away your sword.

Voodoo, you confuse me. How did the word “circle” piss you off? It was a phrase…

VoodooLogic's avatar

It’s was in agreement w/ u, people who talk in circles often use the oneness of everything to back out of arguments. You used neither circles or oneness, my sword is sheathed.

shadling21's avatar

Haha cool. And I see what you mean now. I had to think back to I <3 Huckabees…

Well, I’m glad we reached an understanding.

TheHaight's avatar

Judi, Thankyou for your beautiful answer. I, like Marina, will be back here again to read it. :)

robmandu's avatar

< < put feature request in Man o’ War chatroom for ability to favorite an individual Fluther quip. Much like how one can favorite a tweet on Twitter.

fortris's avatar

There isn’t any proof God exists, its purely faith. And I’m sick of Atheists that think their better than religious people. Also, I’m sick of religious people who think their right.

Personally, religion to me is just a way to cope with the inevitable fact that you will die and there might not be anything else, but I still think that there has to be SOMETHING that made the universe.

VoodooLogic's avatar

Atheism is also built on a similar faith. @motzartpena Get them to go agnostic!

because it feels like a win… :P

SeekerSeekiing's avatar

You don’t try to convince an atheist there is a God. Arguments won’t do it. Live it and maybe he’ll see God in you and ask you how he can have that…I once knew a preacher who went to skid road every Sunday. That was his mission—and his motto was Soup, Soap, Save. He took care of them feed them, got them to doctors, cleaned them up, way way way waaaaaaaaay before he mentioned God. Otherwise, he said, they’d have never heard him…

hoteipdx's avatar

Produce a god that can be touched, seen, tasted, smelled, and heard by multiple people. So, maybe people can see god-like qualities in you as SeekerSeeking said, but that says more about your sense of discipline and compassion than anything else. Atheists are atheists because they have come to recognize that science and poetry are two different things.

Knotmyday's avatar

In order to convince someone that there is a “Big G” god, invite him to a meeting, and introduce him to everybody! That way, everyone present has indisputable proof that he exists.

In so doing, you would quell all skepticism, and no one would have the sneaking suspicion that their “religious conversion” experience was the result of mesmerism and the collective effervescence or convergence of crowd psychology (or brainwashing).

I’m not saying this to mock your religious beliefs. I really want this event to take place, if it is possible.

Until you can do this, and the entire world of “doubting Thomases” can place their hands on and hold a conversation with the Creator of the Universe, the entire concept will remain moot.

However, I am confident that the religious leaders of the world would, given the opportunity, pool their ecumenical resources and bring this very small request before the Great White Throne. When accomplished, you will have to agree that it will have been the very least of the Lord’s accomplishments, and a small price to pay for the saving of an entire planet of sentient beings from the torments of Hell.

For saving the denizens of Earth from just such a fate IS the ultimate goal of established religion, right?

Until then, my religious friends, you and I shall pronounce “tomato” very differently.

trumi's avatar

1. Go Judi! 16 “Great Answer“s and counting!

2. Proud Pastafarian here. Don’t be messin’ with his noodly goodness.

3. Nice thread guys. My computer died, but I’m proud to see that you all said exactly what I would have said.

jholler's avatar

for knotmyday and others:
To steal another quote from Douglas Adams’ Hitchiker’s Guide…“Proof denies Faith, and without Faith I (God) am nothing.”. You can’t prove God exists, faith is the whole point.

Knotmyday's avatar

Mm.

Were I to say (despite all rational and empirical evidence to the contrary) that I had faith that the 20 pound test fishing line on my favorite Penn reel was sufficient to support my weight (200 pounds or thereabout, depending on dinnertime); and I planned to suspend myself from said fishing line in an Evel Knievel-esque attempt to swing myself across the Grand Canyon, would you and others who believe similarly proclaim that my faith is sufficent enough to prevent me from plunging to a watery death in the grey-green greasy Colorado River?

Would it? Faith is the whole point, right? All evidence to the contrary, right? “For faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” Hebrews 11:1.

Whenever I have this conversation, that is one of the two verses that are quoted at me before the quoter turns on his heel and stomps away. The other is Psam 14:1, “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.” I submit that the fool hath assigned far too much import to a work of fiction.

I never tire of this discussion.

robmandu's avatar

@Knotmyday, I submit that the faith mentioned in the bible verse is meant as faith in God, not faith in whatever random thing I choose.

Try a better example.

Knotmyday's avatar

Explain to me why the two are mutually exclusive, and I shall.

hoteipdx's avatar

Why can’t things happen by accident? I mean, really, why not?

robmandu's avatar

@Knotmyday, because, when you’re talking to a Christian, that’s the meaning of those passages in the bible.

Faith, in that context, isn’t magic that you can use to make happen whatever you want.

Knotmyday's avatar

Matthew 17:20

“And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.”

I didn’t say it. He did. Mountains moving.

mozartpena's avatar

wow, quite a heated thing going on in here. i think some feathers were ruffled, but i hope no one was hurt.

thank you for your replies, when it all boils down to it, i’m just concerned for my sister. not that she’ll turn into a bad person, but that she’ll get lost spiritually or in some ways. i personally think that when you believe in nothingness, what’s there to guide you?
i’ll just be there to guide her. thanks guys

i will still write a letter to that professor, but not in a way to force him to teach in a different way he’s been teaching his students. he’s more knowledgeable and smarter than me, so i wouldn’t know. but i would tell him a little bit of talking about God in his class wouldn’t hurt would it?
we all have to be open minded ourselves, but his imposing his atheism on the class is a manifestation of the opposite (close-mindedness).

gailcalled's avatar

Perhaps a letter to the department chairman would be more appropriate or safer. Philosophy is very different from preaching about one’s beliefs or views of a Deity. It is inappropriate unless included in the catalog’s course description.

gailcalled's avatar

And now that I think of it, why not go and talk to the dept. chairman. That way, nothing is on paper and your sister doesn’t have to worry about the prof’s irritation or anger.

jlm11f's avatar

i second what gail said. if you must talk about this, do it in person, you don’t want this in paper.

VoodooLogic's avatar

no no no. @mozartpena; believing in nothing is nihilism

And yes, pray the mountain moves and it will – but it’s not a prayer for validating faith; just as testing a fishing line for tensile strength is a dumb idea to do over the Colorado river. Study the bible if you’re going to quote from it.

@knotmyday keep your faith in a lack of God. I’d rather see a person with concrete sensibilities and good moral values than a someone who claims those things without exercising them. Beware, the depth of your faith (non-deity) is directly related to in a ying yang way to a how a religious person defines their deity. The more you try to refine your views, the more you must put God into your equation #. You may find it’s easier to trip a Christian/Buddhist/Taoist up now, but harder to seek God in exploring your own spirituality (assuming you consider yourself wise enough not to write off your own spirituality).

# thats the part I love: seeking God for the purpose of refuting. LOLz

PeterM's avatar

I wrote this a long time ago. The question was “How do I convert my atheist friend?”, but the answer still applies. It is, of course, not a serious answer.

—————————————————————————————————————-

How do you convert an atheist? It’s pretty simple, and it won’t cost you much – just $12.48, which I’m sure you can save from your allowance. I’ll give you easy, step-by-step instructions.

1. First, go to your local Home Depot, Lowes, or other hardware and lumber store.

2. Buy the following: one twelve-foot length of pressure-treated 4×8 lumber, one six-foot length of the same, four eight-inch nails, and four six-inch nails. Or you can just buy a box of eight-inchers if you’re planning to do this more than once (it will cost a little more, though).

3. I’m assuming you have your own tools, or can borrow some from your Dad. You’ll need a good-sized hammer, a shovel, and something reasonably long with a pointed end – a sharp crowbar should do nicely.

4. Move all of this to an open, fairly private outdoor area. A small hill would be nice.

5. Dig a three-foot deep hole just wide enough for the 4×8 board.

5. Attach the 6ft board to the 10ft one in a perpendicular position, three feet from one end, using the four 8-inch nails. Make sure it’s well nailed. Leave it lying next to the hole.

6. Invite your Godless friend to meet you at the hill.

7. When he arrives, lie down on the assembled cross and have him nail your arms and feet to it firmly. Make sure he drives the upper ones through your wrists, not your palms! Religious art is not a reliable guide in this instance. If he puts the nails through your palms, they’ll quickly rip through and you will flop forward. It will look ridiculous and you won’t convert anybody.

8. Have your friend slide the lower end of the construction into the hole, standing it upright.

9. Have your friend jab the sharp crowbar at least six inches into your abdomen. Do not skip this step; if you do, the project will take much too long to finish and your friend will probably get bored and leave.

10. Die.

11. Come back to life.

12. Your friend is now ready for conversion.

Knotmyday's avatar

@voodoologic-

I read a lot…hardly think that constitutes “seeking God.” I could have easily quoted the Atharaveda (or Douglas Adams :^) but that would have made my point less succinct.

I will give you props for the phrase “keep your faith in a lack of God.” It’ll make an awesome song title.

shadling21's avatar

@knot’s comment to voodoo – Sounds like a hardcore song, actually.

Knotmyday's avatar

Edit: Atharvaveda. Gesundheit. sorry

@shadling- Exaaaaaactly.

robmandu's avatar

[ threadjack cont’d ]

@Knotmyday, the prominent Christian author C.S. Lewis has explained the counter to your viewpoint in saying:

“We must not encourage in ourselves or others any tendency to work up a subjective state which, if we succeeded, we should describe as “faith”, with the idea that this will somehow insure the granting of our prayer…. The state of mind which desperate desire working on a strong imagination can manufacture is not faith in the Christian sense. It is a feat of psychological gymnastics.”

Just because you want your 20lb-test fishing line to support your 200lbs and you have the mental fortitude to make yourself believe it will… well, that’s not what in line with Christian beliefs. That’s not inline with any mainstream beliefs I’m aware of… except maybe clinically diagnosed crazies.

( I’m sure that’s your ultimate point: that Christianity, by your chosen definition of “faith”, is illogical and ludicrous. But you need to understand that your defintion of faith is not what Christians subscribe to… as they do not interpret what Jesus said in Matthew in the they way you do. )

If you take the context into account… that is, look at what lives of Christian faith look like, as exemplified by Jesus, Paul, Peter, etc., they certainly did not go around throwing themselves off cliffs and seeing how much weight they could suspend from random bits of string.

My interpretation of the Christian’s perspective is that faith is believing God’s plan for a person’s life is best possible plan, and that the person should make his decisions and actions in line with that faith. It’s not seen to mean that God will save that person from harm, or make that person popular, or prosperous. Look at the apostle Paul’s life. After becoming a Christian, he spent a lot of time in jail and was eventually tortured to death. But, from a Christian perspective, his life was lived in faithfulness to God and ultimately advanced Christianity. The repercussions of his sacrifice are still visible today. You could say the much the same of Jesus (of course), of Peter, of Timothy, etc.

shadling21's avatar

@robmandu – I somewhat agree. Faith is defined as “firm belief in something for which there is no proof”. In Knot’s example, there is scientific proof (or at least, there is a hypothesis based on past evidence) that a 200-lb person attached to a weak fishing line would fall into the Grand Canyon. That is not really a leap of faith – it’s a leap of insanity.

As for that C.S. Lewis quote… I believe it pertains to something less frivolous than Knot’s example. As a teenager, I desperately wanted to believe in God, to have an ultimate purpose in this life. The “desire” that Lewis mentioned was drawing me to religion. As for imagination… I simply couldn’t imagine that supernatural beings would truly exist.

Another definition of faith is “belief and trust in and loyalty to God”. Your definition of faith is lovely, but for someone who can not even make it to the first part, “belief”, the whole “trust in and loyalty to” part is ridiculous. I might as well be worshipping Krishna.

Definitions taken from Merriam-Webster

PS: I honestly think this question is done with, but if you want to keep debating, I’m all for it.

Knotmyday's avatar

Rob-

First of all, props for quoting C.S. Lewis. From “The World’s Last Night (and Other Essays),” also contains what I consider a literary crackerjack prize; a nice postscript to “The Screwtape Letters.” One of my favorite authors; “Mere Christianity” is one of the most down-to-earth religious treatises I have ever read. Made me crave a pipe, a pint of bitter, and an Anglican prayer-book.

I appreciate the whole-hearted sentiment of your post, but the fact remains that all arguments for the existence of (G)od rely on circular reasoning as proof of validity. I wish to be spared such religio-epistemological disputations, and arguments referencing the literality of the Words of Christ (in red) concerning faith-based attempts to move mountains hither and yon.

No doubt, as long as people harbor the hope of a “deus ex machina” to rescue them from unhappiness, pain, and loneliness, there will continue to be established religions, and their coffers will continue to be filled by constituents who have found peace and happiness through belief in the intangible, hope for the unattainable, and the promise of life after death.

So be it.

As I stated in my previous post, prove the existence of God, and I will believe. And by “prove,” I mean (please) stop blowing the dust off a couple of tomes and reciting literature to me. I know what they’ve said, by golly, I’ve seen the pages and read the words.

To un-jack the thread, the original question was “How do you convince an atheist that there is a god?” The answer: “Show him the money.” It’s not enough to stand before him, earnest and empty-pocketed.

@shadling- I do believe I second your P.S.

An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or of Practical Reason is idiocy.
-C.S. Lewis, “The Abolition of Man”

hoteipdx's avatar

Yes. Arrange a meeting with the prof. and dept. chair. I went to a Christian college and in our sociology classes we were required to practice “methodological atheism” which was completely different from belief-driven atheism. Basically, it is hard to construct well-reasoned arguments when you can suspend the line of reasoning with “And then God…” So, in the prof’s defense, he might just be aiming for good old fashioned, systematic reason. And, if you give it a shot, reason is a pretty good moral compass.

Hika's avatar

dont try to convert someone unless that relgion has facts that can be proven. im agnostic because no one has proved that there is a god. i belive that something created this world but i dont belive in a afterlife or not sure but im scared of death because i belive that when u die its just blackness. so dont try to convert someone without facts..

Judi's avatar

Why would I want to? My job is not to convince anyone of anything. My job is to reflect Christ. Let God do the converting. He’s much better at it than me. Don’t you trust him?

Judi's avatar

didn’t we have this exact question once before? Or was it on assville?

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