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For some reason, people frequently ask me what it would take for me to give up my Christian faith and become an atheist. Given that many atheists (who consider themselves former Christians) cite an emotional experience as pivotal to their loss of faith, I won’t venture to guess what kind of subjective experience might cause me to abandon faith. Rather, I will focus on the intellectual component. In other words, what would convince me rationally to become an atheist?
In the book Evolution 2.0, Perry Marshall suggests four points that would convince him to become an atheist. They include:
- proof that random selection and natural mutation can build elaborate structures like eyes and ears
- a rigorously tested principle that shows what percentage of the time mutations are genuinely beneficial
- proof that all things really need to evolve is time and chance
- evidence the first cell could emerge without any kind of intelligent agency
This is a good start.
And I agree with Marshall that there are not adequate naturalistic explanations for these phenomena. But to me, atheism needs to explain much more than these four facts to be considered true. In fact, any worldview needs to have the resources to explain certain features of the natural world. Any worldview that cannot give a sufficient explanation for these phenomena is simply inadequate.
For me to abandon my faith, atheism would need to rationally explain the following phenomena better than theism:
- The origin of the universe. Why is there something rather than nothing?
- The origin of consciousness. How does mind emerge from matter?
- Cambrian explosion. What natural process explains the explosion of life?
- Free will. How can matter spawn free choice?
- Human value. How can human value emerge from a valueless process?
- Beauty. Where does beauty come from?
- Objective morality. How does an amoral universe develop morality?
- Fine-tuning. Why is the universe so exquisitely fine-tuned for life?
- The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. How do you explain the powerful historical evidence that Jesus rose from the dead?
The reality is that atheism cannot sufficiently explain any of these phenomena. Of course, I do realize that many atheists have provided possible answers for some of these phenomena (I have responded to some of these objections here). And some of these attempts are certainly much better than others. Yet the question is not what is possible, but what is most reasonable.
Theism does have a reasonable explanation for these phenomena. Rather than coming into existence from nothing, the universe was brought into existence by a powerful and personal being. Humans have value because they are made in the image of God, who is the ultimate source of value. The universe is fine-tuned because God is an intelligent designer. Consciousness emerged not from non-conscious matter, but from God, a conscious thoughtful being. And the best explanation of the historical facts is that the God of Israel raised Jesus from the dead. As Paul Copan has observed, theism provides a more natural explanation of the world than atheism.
But this is only the first step. If naturalism could provide a better explanation for these phenomena, then it wouldn’t prove God’s absence. It would only demonstrate the lack of positive evidence for his existence. God could certainly exist and not provide proof. After all, God regularly works through secondary causes to accomplish his means (e.g., Exodus 14:21).
Thus, a second step is needed for atheism to be the most reasonable—positive evidence that it is true. So far, I have not seen any compelling evidence for the truth of atheism. If atheism were true, then I would believe it. But until atheism can better explain the world around us, I’m sticking with my Christian faith.