For example, in their radio discussion, Greg Bahnsen asked George H. Smith, author of Atheism: The Case Against God, what he would consider convincing evidence that the Christian god is real. In response to this question, Smith quipped something to the effect that a “giant hand” reaching down from the sky and grabbing him by the scruff of the neck would probably get his attention. Smith states, “that would get me thinking.” (Find the audio recording here; a transcript is available here.)
1. Evidence that consciousness holds metaphysical primacy over its objects.
2. Evidence that wishing makes it so.
3. An objectively reliable means of distinguishing between what believers call "God" and what they are merely imagining.
4. Evidence that contradictions exist in reality.
5. Evidence that stolen concepts are not fallacious.
6. In the case of the Christian god, its promises of the efficacy of prayer as found in the gospels would need to check out. Unfortunately they don't.
7. Some means other than reason which I can reliably use to discover and validate knowledge of the world we find ourselves in by looking outward - i.e., to look inward and "know" what is true outside our minds.
8. Evidence that a pebble that I find in my backyard came into existence by an act of consciousness.
Then again, when asked the question “What would convince you?” by Christians, I want to ask in return: What’s more important: Being Christian, or being honest? For if I am honest about what I can discover and confirm about the nature of reality by an epistemological methodology suited to the kind of consciousness which I possess – i.e., by means of reason, I cannot draw the conclusion that reality is the product of conscious activity.
But I don’t get the impression from apologists that they truly desire an honest dialogue. Rather, I get the impression that they want to sharpen their apologetic tools by driving non-believers into inescapable corners as a means of confirming their confessional commitments. And the purpose of doing so seems to be nothing more than to protect a confessional investment. That such an approach is not at all even close to being on a par with satisfying genuine curiosity, is demonstrated in the fact that goading non-believers into confessing “I don’t know” does not slow apologists down, but rather energizes them to continue pushing their talking points, as if they were sharks smelling blood in the sea.
Thus in response to the question “What would convince you [that a god exists]?” one might be forgiven for asking in return: Do you not think it’s possible for someone to honestly not believe that a god exists?
Even worse, I’m always stymied how the question of starting points never seems to enter into the mix here. So what exactly is the believer’s starting point, if not the very position he’s insisting that everyone else adopt?
Most people operate on a mixed metaphysics, implicitly recognizing in their daily activity that the objects of consciousness do not conform to conscious activity, but owing to the fact that they have not identified explicitly this relationship between consciousness and it objects as a fundamental principle, they often violate this principle in the inner world of their mental activity. It’s as though so long as they aren’t reminded of a fundamental truth, they’re free to ignore it and hold positions which directly violate that truth.
Consider for example the fact that most people do not run around expecting doors to open on command or food to populate their cupboards upon wishing. One does not come to a clearing in the forest and declare “Let there be a house here” and a house comes into existence out of nothing. They recognize implicitly that reality does not conform to their conscious activity. But since they have not grasped the implications which this fact has for their outlook on the world, on life, on knowledge and morality, they see no problem in accepting beliefs that are not supportable by objective analysis, e.g., belief in ghosts, belief in supernatural beings, belief in an afterlife, treatment of good and evil along the lines of Star Wars’ “The Force,” acceptance of deterministic views of human nature, even secularized counterparts to such notions such as “the collective consciousness,” the “public good,” etc.
In the realm of values, it is very common for thinkers to assume that values are inherently subjective. We find this assumption among many secularists as well as religionists: values ultimately reduce to preferences and desires, not to facts. While postmodernists insist that values are social constructs originating in one form or another of group-think (one group prefers this kind of values while another group prefers another kind of values), religionists tell us that values are handed down from a supernatural realm by some sort of fiat decree (even the Christian god has its preferences). No tie to objective reality is involved in either case. (Cf. John Robbins, who affirmed the following in his paper An Introduction to Gordon Clark: “The distinction between right and wrong depends entirely upon the commands of God. There is no natural law that makes some actions right and others wrong.”) Both schools of thought not only treat preferences and desires as irreducible primaries having no contextual relationship to a mind-independent reality, but also treat reality as though it followed suit in response to those preferences and desires. Whether it is by “society” or by a divine agency, whatever is accepted as the basis for distinguishing right from wrong must itself have been determined by a form of consciousness which just pulls it out of thin air. Sheer, unbridled force of will is the ultimate standard of normativity.
In fact, contrary to this assumption, there is such a category as objective moral values and their basis is the facts pertaining to man’s nature as a living organism which possesses a volitional consciousness capable for conceptual integration. Man faces a fundamental alternative, namely life vs. death, and in order to live he needs food, water, shelter, protection, reason, work, philosophy, happiness, etc., regardless of what anyone desires or prefers; one can “prefer” that man can survive without work, for example, but that won’t make our need for identifying and producing values go away.
So while it is extremely common for thinkers to adopt a mixed metaphysics – i.e., a view of reality which on the one hand acknowledges that wishing doesn’t make it so while on the other affirming in one form or another that wishing does make it so, the problem is that such an internally inconsistent hodgepodge is simply unworkable: one horn of the packaged contradiction while hold primacy over the other.
But contradictions do not exist in reality, and the very concept of truth presupposes the primacy of existence. A mixed metaphysics could only be possible if some truths hinged on the primacy of consciousness while the primacy of existence provided the basis for others. But which truths presuppose the metaphysics of wishing makes it so? What are some examples of truths that are true because someone merely wishes, prefers, hopes, imagines, or feels (emotionally) that they are true? What in reality do we find actually conforming to conscious activity?
If one wants to adopt a mixed metaphysics, what standard would he enlist in determining when the primacy of existence applies and when the primacy of consciousness applies? Wouldn’t that standard itself have to presuppose either the primacy of existence or the primacy of consciousness? It could not presuppose both simultaneously. Indeed, what would objectivity mixed with subjectivism even look like, if not a haphazard, internally inconsistent mélange of views? In which case, all objectivity would be obliterated.
So in conclusion, there are in fact a number of issues and questions to address when considering the question “What would convince you that God exists?” And generally speaking, the important ones are wholly accessible to any honest thinker, and yet so easily brushed aside as though they simply didn’t count – when in fact they do!
by Dawson Bethrick